The Niagara Global Tourism Institute, a program established by Niagara University in 2014, is improving the region’s tourism product and global competitiveness through collaborative partnerships between the public and private sector. It operates under four pillars: research; technology; entrepreneurship; and skills development.
While all four pillars are intended to enhance tourism and support economic development in Niagara Falls, perhaps the one with the most immediate impact is the institute’s workforce training program. After completion of the four-week workshop, participants are guaranteed an entry-level job in the hospitality and tourism industry.
Hospitality and tourism provide a perfect opportunity to get a foot in the door to a career without the need for a college degree, says Roscoe Naguit, assistant director of the institute. The industry “provides a lot of opportunity for folks, who can transfer their skills to other industries, as well.”
In Niagara Falls, hundreds of jobs in the hospitality industry remain unfilled due to the lack of a qualified workforce. The institute’s training program hopes to change that while encouraging local business owners to see the benefits of investing in their communities to develop a reliable and properly motivated workforce.
Working with partners including American Niagara Hospitality, Orleans Niagara BOCES, and the Community Missions of Niagara, the institute’s director, Pat Whalen, and Naguit developed a program specifically tailored to meet the needs of local business owners. Participants develop skills through on-site experiences that include visits to the Niagara Falls Conference and Event Center, local hotels, and the KeyBank Center, where they meet employees who started their careers as ticket scanners and now work in a variety of areas in the facility.
Chef Bobby Anderson, executive director of F Bites, also shares his story and his expertise with program participants. The Niagara Falls native, who initially pursued the food industry as a way to escape the problems he faced on the urban streets of the city, worked his way from dishwasher to executive chef of restaurants including EB Greens Steakhouse and the Seneca Niagara Casino’s restaurant and buffet. He also appeared on the TV show “Hell’s Kitchen.”
The training program, which begins its fourth year in spring 2019, has placed 12 people in jobs. While the number may seem insignificant, the impact on these individuals’ lives is not. Many of them represent the underserved community of Niagara Falls, often unemployed for multiple years and trying to support families.
Naguit says that changing the mindset of the students is a primary objective. Things other people might not even think about—a mandatory background check that costs $15, money for a bus pass to get to work during the first few weeks on a job—can become barriers to employment for many of the students. Through the program, the institute provides various assistance packages so students can concentrate on learning and advancing, instead of being able to afford “work” clothes or initial transportation.
“One of my goals is to get participants to the point of self-sufficiency,” Naguit says, “not just getting a job.” To that end, the workshop also addresses life skills like financial literacy and conflict resolution.
The impact of the training program goes beyond the participating individuals, says Naguit. Family members and neighbors, who see the positive change in the students’ lives, both personally and professionally, serve as a prime example of the opportunity available within the City of Niagara Falls and the tourism industry. Naguit says people are now starting to inquire about future trainings and that as a result, this spring’s class will enroll 10 participants.
“That word of mouth is big for us,” Naguit says, “because it’s acceptance that we’re doing something right, not just for the tourism industry, but for people in the City of Niagara Falls who deserve the opportunity.”