Orange County’s Community College Hospitality & Tourism Programs Serve Regional Recovery Feature Story

October 28, 2021

As more people resume traveling and dining out after months of hunkering down at home during the pandemic, the hospitality industry is experiencing an unprecedented need to hire employees to replace those that they lost. Orange County’s community colleges offer numerous programs that train students for the variety of opportunities in this quickly rebounding industry. 

New Report Highlights COVID-19 Impact on RHT 

The extent of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the RHT sector is the focus of a new report titled “Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Retail, Hospitality, Tourism Sector in Orange County,” prepared by Jacob Poore, interim director of the Orange County Center of Excellence. Some of its key findings are:

  • From 2019 to 2020, Retail accounted for 9.6% of all job losses in Orange County and Hospitality and Tourism accounted for 45% of all job losses.
  • Within the RHT industry, 11 occupations accounted for 49% of job losses from 2019 to 2020 in Orange County.
  • Though the pandemic disproportionately affected the RHT sector, there is an increased demand for these workers as re-opening efforts continue. 
  • As of July 2021, there were over 2.9 million job openings nationally within the RHT industry. 

Orange County RHT is Recovering

In California, the Public Policy Institute of California found that employment in the leisure and hospitality sectors is growing more quickly than any other sector. And it’s not just opportunities that are growing. California’s wages in leisure and hospitality are also up 14 percent compared to a year ago, the largest annual increase in any sector.

Sheila Dufresne, regional director of employment engagement for retail, hospitality, and tourism in Orange County, noted that California has more than 1.2 million jobs in hospitality, travel and tourism and many of them pay well and offer great opportunities for career advancement. This, of course, isn’t surprising, considering that Orange County is the second most visited county in the country.

“These are significant and important jobs, particularly in California and especially in Orange County,” she said. “They’re also a critical piece of Orange County’s post-COVID recovery.”

Faculty members at Orange County colleges said they are besieged like never before by employers seeking students who want a job or an internship.

“I’ve had more companies reach out to me for employment than I’ve ever had,” said Tina DeShano, program director at the Orange Coast College School of Hospitality, Travel and Tourism. “They say ‘we’ll take people working part-time, we’ll work around their schedules.’  I think there are a lot of opportunities.”

Amanda Gargano, a professor in the Hotel, Restaurant and Culinary Arts program at Cypress College, said she’s also been inundated by employers seeking workers.

“We’re seeing a ton of jobs available,” Gargano said. “The industry seems to be bouncing back rather quickly. We are getting emails from employers every day. There are a ton of positions available that they just can’t fill. There seems to be a humongous demand.”

Orange County community colleges offer a wide range of programs in the hospitality and tourism sector with unique specializations at each college, ranging from Catering to Airline Customer Service. Students may decide to earn a certificate that takes just a few months and can lead directly to a job, or they may choose to earn an associate degree.

Here’s a list of regional community college programs and the specialties they offer:

Cypress College:

  • Hotel, Restaurant and Culinary Arts: Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry Arts, Retail Management, Hospitality Management, Food and Beverage Management, Culinary Arts, Culinary Fundamentals, Baking and Pastry, and Baking Fundamentals
  • Aviation and Travel: Airline Customer Services, Airport Operations, Aviation Management, Flight Attendant, Travel/Tourism, Aviation Management, Basic Travel/Tourism, Cruise Line Sales & Operations, Flight Attendant, Tourism and Conference Management

Orange Coast College:

  • Culinary Arts – Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry
  • Food Service Management – Restaurant Management, ​Catering, Dietetic Service Manager, Dietetic Service Supervisor, Food Service Management – Commercial, Food Service Management – Institutional, Quick Service, Restaurant Supervision.
  • Travel and Tourism – Hotel Management, Flight Attendant/Airline Travel Careers, Travel Specialist, Airline Travel Management, Front Office Specialist, Human Resources Management, Marketing and Event Management, Sales/Marketing Specialist, Spa Management, Travel Specialist.

Saddleback College:

Santa Ana College:

In addition to providing a standard pathway for aspiring cooks and chefs, Saddleback’s Culinary Arts program prepares students for unique opportunities that include Specialty and Ethnic Restaurant Operations, Food and Beverage Service, Fast Foods Operations, and Food Service which focuses on schools and daycare centers for the young and elderly. Additionally, the Catering program is designed for a wide variety of employment opportunities within catering operations, as well as developing and owning your own catering business.

Santa Ana College’s programs offer practical certifications in culinary arts and hospitality, preparing students for a wide range of entry-level careers, as well as a unique degree in nutrition and dietetics, opening up even more service-oriented career options in schools, hotels, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.

At Cypress, stackable degree and certificate programs mean students can quickly build a resume full of specialized skills in a short time as they pursue their certificate or degree.

“It definitely makes students more employable,” says Gargano.

Cypress College’s culinary arts program, located in Anaheim, partners with many of the nearby businesses in the hospitality industry, including Disneyland Resort Hotels, and the area’s Hyatt and Marriott hotels. Gargano said the goal of the program is to make students more employable so they can obtain jobs that pay more than entry-level positions.

“We really want them to be leaders in the field,” she said. “Students can go through school with us and enter positions at a higher level. They will have a supervisory role, but still have someone mentoring them.”

At Orange Coast College, students in the hospitality program can get hands-on experience in the field, such as learning how to work the front desk for Hotel Management students, DeShano said. For students in the Flight Attendant program, a mockup of the passenger section of an aircraft is being installed so they can practice serving there.

With Disneyland and other theme parks and tourist attractions throughout the region, job opportunities are plentiful for graduates of Orange County’s community college hospitality programs.  

“As we re-emerge from the pandemic, the general perception that these sectors offer only low wage jobs has clearly shifted,” DuFresne said. “And that’s such a welcome change.”

For more information about jobs recovery in Orange County, view the recent Orange County Center of Excellence Report, “Jobs for Recovery: Occupational Training for Displaced Workers in Orange County.”