Explore Charleston launches mentoring program for entry-level hospitality workers


Charleston is taking steps to see that entry-level workers in the booming local hospitality field receive proper training and mentoring to enable those interested better pursue successful, lucrative careers in the industry.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the lowest paid workers in the country are associated with the hospitality industry. These include food preparers, servers, dishwashers, cashiers, hotel housekeepers and restaurant hosts. Heart for Hospitality, a new project of Explore Charleston, the city’s official visitor organization, is leading the charge for increased opportunity. 

“The impetus behind Heart for Hospitality was a recognition that our future hospitality stars may not be aware of all the industry has to offer, or they may not even see themselves in hospitality roles to know what is possible,” Marc Gibson, director of inclusion and engagement at the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, told Palmetto Business Daily in an email interview. “We saw a need to build awareness about career pathways and take action for inclusion and engagement across the hospitality industry.”

To help in the effort, Explore Charleston formed a task force to explore ways to increase diversity in the industry and create pathways for workers to pursue hospitality careers. The task force includes leaders in the city’s hospitality sectors as well as experts from other fields, such as education, who have experience in diversity and inclusion efforts, Gibson said.


Marc Gibson, director of inclusion and engagement at the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau  

“Currently, we face a need to improve the recruitment of workers from underrepresented communities and also to create opportunities for career pathways for new hires and existing employees,” he said. “This initiative is intended to support all individuals, regardless of background or culture beliefs.

“We have a really good opportunity to ensure entry-level positions are just the starting point of a career rather than just a dead-end job. We feel with a strong work ethic and a positive attitude there are great opportunities in our industry for everyone. And this extends across food and beverage, hotels and attractions.”

Gibson said that sometimes workers might not even realize they can follow a career path, and educating them about the possibilities, and then providing them with the tools for success, is a key objective of Heart for Hospitality. Its current goals, he said, are to cultivate mentoring organizations and individuals, to recruit hospitality leadership into this movement for change, to create upward pathways of success and to be a leading community for others to model.

Gibson noted that Explore Charleston also, in other efforts, works to address other issues that affect the industry and its workers, a shortage of affordable housing and transportation high among them.

Heart for Hospitality, though, is focused now on developing initial classes in such areas as unconscious bias, recruitment and leadership binding and bonding.

“The hospitality industry is vast and includes so many types of jobs,” Gibson said. “With ambition and mentorship, the sky is the limit in terms of opportunities. It doesn't matter where you start – you can work your way to success.”

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