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Hospitality industry reaches out to high school students

JUDITH HARLAN

A room full of high school juniors and seniors making coffee drinks might not seem like the ideal morning event to most.

But to Chef Lee Wilhelm it looks like success.

The nine high school students were the first enrollees in the Washoe County School District Regional Technical Institute’s new Hotel & Hospitality Management School-to- Career Program, and they were training, under the volunteered tutelage of Boyds coffee, to be baristas – people who make lattes, cappuccinos and the like.

Wilhelm, the instructor of the program and a moving force behind getting it approved, was thrilled with the students’work.”The program approval came in after all the other classes had enrolled for the year,” he says, so each of the students had to make a consummate effort – meeting with counselors and changing their set schedules, to be part of the course.

Good move on their part.

Total lodging industry revenue nationwide increased from $102.6 billion in 2002 to $105.3 billion in 2003, according to American Hotel & Lodging Association reports.Meanwhile, the association reports, the number of Nevada hotel jobs has grown rapidly over the last two decades.

Nevada currently employs 216,500 hotel workers – the most of any state.

The northern Nevada business community is supporting the students’ efforts with mentors, training, job shadowing, and associated internship programs, says Wilhelm.

The students will be visiting the Peppermill Hotel; they’ve been to the Hidden Valley Golf Course for a YMCA fundraiser; they’ll be getting help from the Butcher Boy Catering and the Rotary Club, Reno Central.

And numerous other businesses have shown interest, adds Wilhelm, including the members of the International Food Service Executive Association, a group of hospitality industry professionals.

Also, the Airport Plaza Hotel is partnering with RTI to offer internships and facilities.

This year’s students’ future hopes point in a variety of directions, from theme park and ski resort management to casino and entertainment management.Wilhelm hopes that some of them will, upon completion of the program, study hotel management at a university and then return to Reno to ply their trade here.

The program is set to expand,with two classes with a capacity of 30 each scheduled for the fall 2005 school year, followed by three classes in fall 2006.