Grant creates new Va. workforce project to train restaurant and hotel workers

Grant creates new Va. workforce project to train restaurant and hotel workers

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - More than $250,000 in grant funding will create a new workforce project through the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association (VRLTA) to help train workers across Central Virginia.

On Tuesday, the VRLTA announced plans for the $255,500 project to assist restaurant and hotel employees.

“The project has two parts: an upskilling and training program for unemployed and underemployed restaurant and hotel employees, and the enhancement of VRLTA’s industry-specific job board, which connects hospitality employers with job seekers,” a news release said.

Roughly 50% of the funding came from GO Virginia Region 4, also known as Growth & Opportunity Virginia. The remaining funds were matched by Chesterfield County, Hanover County, Henrico County and the City of Richmond.

The localities to benefit from this project include Charles City County, Chesterfield County, Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie County, Emporia, Goochland County, Greensville County, Hanover County, Henrico County, Hopewell, New Kent County, Petersburg, Powhatan County, Prince George County, Richmond (city), Surry County, and Sussex County.

“We are grateful for the support of GO Virginia, the regional funding partners, hospitality businesses, and other localities for the project,” stated Eric Terry, President of VRLTA. “From the first discussion, it was clear that there was not only a need, but significant support for, the project. Area businesses will benefit greatly from a better trained workforce and these efforts will help the area’s hospitality industry recover more quickly.”

“It’s been very difficult,” said Frances Santarella, Owner of RVA Hospitality.

More than a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic is still creating challenges for local businesses.

Restaurants with RVA Hospitality, like Tarrant’s Cafe and Bar Solita, know those challenges well.

“When we [re-]opened up the restaurant we started with a skeleton crew and a very small amount of employees, but now we’re desperately looking for more and more people to fill those positions,” Santarella said.

That is where the VRLTA comes in. Through the grant, it was able to expand its job board specifically for hospitality businesses.

“We’ve had actually a tenfold growth in the number of jobs since the beginning of the year,” Terry said. “We felt the need needed to be addressed to have something people could go to quickly and find career opportunities.”

According to association leaders, before this board was initially created in Oct. 2020, a single place for hospitality and tourism jobs did not exist.

The grant will also focus on an upskill training program for unemployed or underemployed restaurant and hotel workers. The free training will give these employees a chance to brush up on their skills and customer interaction especially in this COVID-19 world.

“We feel like people need to have that training to keep them engaged in the industry; come back into the industry hopefully in a better position, better job,” Terry said.

All trainees will be required to take COVID-related training and can choose from a number of online classes designed to help them in their current job or future one.

“The courses offer restaurant and hotel workers an opportunity to enhance their skills to become more valuable to their current employer and more marketable to future employers,” said Jim Wilson, VRLTA’s Vice President of Education and Workforce Development. “The training offers basics on COVID, food handling, and guest services, plus additional options such as the Certified Restaurant Professional and other designations, courses in preventing sexual harassment and understanding unconscious bias, and training related to allergens and serving alcohol.”

Registration for this training program is expected to be posted on the VRLTA website in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Santarella does see some positive changes happening right now.

“As more and more people are getting vaccinated, there are more people who are coming out, enjoying and dining at our restaurants,” she said.

While the restaurant industry is seeing improvements, Terry said hotels are recovering at a slow pace.

“We still kind of maintain some restrictions on that industry,” he added. “So, they’re not able to hold corporate meetings and other events.”

Business travel has not recovered either, but leisure travel has, according to Terry. However, there is the ongoing concern for business hotels.

“Many of our downtown Richmond properties are really struggling for occupancy,” Terry said. “I think the best estimates are it will be 2023 before we see a full recovery of that.”

This project comes as the VRLTA has requested hospitality and tourism relief from the Virginia General Assembly through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) signed March 11, 2021 by President Joe Biden.

According to Terry, the relief package will send $350 billion to states, local and tribal governments.

“The ARP stipulates that 25 percent of those funds be devoted to hospitality industry relief efforts, but the legislative text is not specific in how states and local governments should meet that goal,” the VRLTA said.

  • Hotels and other lodging establishments: $184.7 million
  • Restaurants: $36.7 million
  • Attractions: $10 million
  • Tourism entities:
    • Destination Marketing Organizations/CVBs: $12.25 million
    • Virginia Tourism Corporation: $20 million in additional funding over two years
    • Convention Centers: $1.5 million
  • Campgrounds: $2 million
  • Wedding Venues: $4.7 million

According to Terry, the proposal is modeled after what other states and jurisdictions are doing with the funds.

“We’ve been having one-on-one calls with members of the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office and quite frankly I’m encouraged by this response,” he said. “There’s recognition that the industry has been devastated and not of their own accord. I feel confident the recognize the need of the industry.”

The VRLTA also requested $1.5 million in funds to expand the upskilling and job training program along with the job board. The hope is to expand this opportunity state-wide.

An estimated $10 billion in tourism was lost in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with another possible $3.8 billion to $7.8 billion to be lost in 2021, according to the VRLTA.

Now, local businesses are encouraging people to get back in the community and support the industry.

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