The hospitality industry is Central Florida’s largest employer, with its lodging component expected to generate 4,300 new jobs by 2016, according to the Orlando Business Journal. To help many of Central Florida’s unemployed residents obtain these jobs, the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida and the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Educational Institute (EI) joined forces this summer with Jobs Partnership of Florida to launch a new workforce development program called Career On-Ramp to Hospitality.

“Hospitality is the big job creator in Central Florida and our goal is to build a pipeline of skilled and motivated workers that will serve the industry and our visitors well,” said Marc Stanakis, president of the Job Partnership of Florida.

The Career On-Ramp to Hospitality, funded by Orange County’s Community Action Division, kicked off its inaugural program in July of 2012 at UCF’s Rosen College, where a class of 24 participants spent six weeks learning hospitality basics.

Taught by UCF Rosen College instructor Michael Terry and Amy Lein, former human resource director for Cirque du Soleil, the program used EI’s Skills, Tasks, And Results Training (START) curriculum, which “provides people with the technical skills needed for a career in hospitality,” according to Terry.

In addition to classroom instruction, participants also took field trips to tour hotels, practiced skills on-site at various properties, and met with several local hospitality guest speakers.

Members of the UCF Rosen College Lodging Alumni Council also provided one-on-one mentoring to the program’s participants.

“It’s very exciting that all of these different entities came together to serve members of our community who are seeking employment,” said Dorathy Nevitt, director of human resources, Orlando World Center Marriott, who is coordinated the mentorship component of the program and worked with area hotel human resources departments to arrange job interviews for the program’s graduates.

All 24 participants graduated from the six-week program and received a national certificate in hospitality. Several participants have already found career opportunities with various hotels in Central Florida, while others are still interviewing for positions.

The next Career On-Ramp to Hospitality program is expected to begin in the summer of 2013.