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James Mitchell

Workforce experts said that one of Michigan’s healthiest fields for employment can be found in restaurant, hotel or customer service-oriented work.

“We realized about two years ago that with hospitality and retail, job openings were at a pretty high rate,” said Shamar Herron, manager of workforce development for the Washtenaw County Michigan Works! Agency. “The economy was turning and people were doing more traveling and spending.”

According to the Workforce Intelligence Network, retail and hospitality combined for the largest cluster of new jobs in southeast Michigan. Postings in 2013 included more than 72,000 retail sales positions, nearly 50,000 cashier positions, and more than 130,000 openings in fast food, customer service and janitorial positions.

Herron said that agencies such as Michigan Works developed plans to educate the needed workforce, talent drawn from both young students and the growing population in search of a career transition.

“They’d just been laid off twenty minutes ago,” Herron said of recession casualties. “They’re a little disoriented after working for an organization for a long time and now they’re suddenly unemployed.”

Along with job openings – more than a dozen categories showed growth in new hires between 2005 and 2014 – the retail/hospitality sector offers considerable opportunity for advancement. A WIN survey based on actual resumes noted that entry-level skills needed in retail and hospitality are among the most easily-transferred to fields including IT and health care.

“Students don’t want to start at entry level, but they don’t realize the growth opportunity,” said David Wildfong, Career Services Advisor at Washtenaw Community College. “If you take the long view, there’s growth.”

The college hosted last month a culinary arts job fair, and Wildfong said that participants – which previously welcomed a majority of students and alumni – has recently shifted to an even split of students and experienced workers within the community launching second careers.

Wildfong said that interest in the school’s culinary arts programs and job fairs is the strongest he’s seen in ten years at WCC.
“This was unprecedented in terms of the types and numbers of positions available,” Wildfong said of opportunities in the hospitality fields. “It’s only going to continue; it’s not plateau-ing out.”

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