Panelists: Hiring problems having huge impact on hospitality sector

Michael Chait, president of the Atlantic City Chamber, said he didn’t need to look far to find examples of issues with finding labor in the hospitality industry as he prepared for a panel on the topic at the ReNew Jersey Business Summit last week in Atlantic City.

In fact, he didn’t need to look outside of the Borgata Hotel & Casino.

Some of the restaurants there no longer open as much due to labor shortages. And they are far from the exception to the rule. Similar situations can be found throughout the region and the state.

Chait said the issue is widespread.

“There’s a lot of competition, there’s a lot of shortages – and there’s a lot of understanding of why so many of these shortages exist,” he said.

Fellow panelist, Dana Lancellotti, president & CEO NJ Restaurant & Hospitality Association, said many need to focus on the youth – and get them passionate about providing experiences.

“About making people smile and getting them to learn tremendous life skills,” she said.

“Think about how much servers have to deal with. They navigate personalities, and diffuse issues, and upsell the menu. They learn how to be so many things within their job. They put in a lot of hard work, and they’re not able to work remotely.

“It’s definitely something that needs to come back. Bodies need to be there in person, engaging with people.”

Lancelotti spoke about how the Restaurant Association teamed up with the state’s restaurant educational foundation to bring the food service industry to high schoolers and VoTechs across the state through a two-year program known as ProStart.

Not only does ProStart educate and develop students into future leaders of the restaurant and hospitality industry, but it also teaches them important management skills by bringing real world experience to the classroom.

“They learn culinary arts and restaurant management and they come out with a certification,” she said. “Meanwhile, they’ve been exposed to industry influencers and employers throughout their time there. And they’ve competed and shown their talents.”

Lancellotti, like Chait, also brought up the push for New Jersey to get its share of J1 Visa employees from overseas.

“It really has been a devastating thing for the tourism industry for the past two years to lose the international students who come over to culturally acclimate to America and learn things while they’re working,” she said.

Moreover, Lancellotti said, the tourism industry is about 75% back to what it was pre-pandemic, and pathways to the future are very important.

She believes there has to be a way to get high schoolers to understand that.