Merced County Times Newspaper
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Hospitality Career Academy to welcome new class of students

After a successful launch of the Hospitality Career Academy last year, the next 12-week course is about to begin for people interested in a variety of exciting careers.

Through this innovative and creative free program, which is a partnership between Merced College and The Mainzer and El Capitan Hotel (Merced’s Joie de Vivre by Hyatt Hotels), college students can receive training for careers in hospitality and customer service while earning college credits. The Academy is also open to individuals who are not current Merced College students.

The kick-off event for the second Academy will take place on Jan. 31 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at The Mainzer, located at 655 W. Main Street in Merced.  That’s where people can learn more about the program, get the registration information, and find out how to sign up.

Describing her experience with the first Academy, Merced College Business Professor Jonae Pistoresi, who teaches many of the classes, told the Times, “The 15 participants at our graduation were so appreciative of the program, and they didn’t want it to end.  Our very first group were wonderful people, and I’m so excited to see who is going to sign up this round and to go on this journey with them.

“Two of the students from the first Academy were hired right away, one at El Cap and one at The Mainzer.  Others are still ongoing students, and some weren’t ready to get a job because they were doing other things.  Certainly, if people wanted a job it was available.

“The El Capitan Hotel and The Mainzer are paying the tuition for the students because they believe in helping the community grow.  Even if graduates get a job at another hotel, they still feel it’s so important to invest in the community.

“Our mission statement at Merced College is to partner with businesses and organizations in our community and so it’s a great partnership with El Capitan and Mainzer, and Bella Luna, which is going to host a new class called The Art of Creating Cocktails.  The students will learn bar set-up, safety and sanitation, and how to prepare popular drinks.

“Another thing we’ve added to the program is ServSafe, which is a certification you need if you work in any restaurant and teaches safe food handling.  This makes someone so valuable because the employer doesn’t have to pay to get an employee certified with this national recognition.

“We teach the classes at Merced College’s Business Resource Center in downtown Merced.  But we do field trips to The Mainzer and El Capitan Hotel.

“I so enjoyed teaching this.  I’ve been a Business Professor at Merced College for 32 years.  What was really fun about teaching this was the field trip component where they learned the concepts in the classroom and walked over to the El Cap or Mainzer and learned about it from the chef, or the general manager, or the people manager, and just being able to connect the dots from what you learn in the classroom to what it’s like in real life.”

“The students will tour a hotel room.  When we did that last semester, and it turned out some of the students had never been in a hotel room.  If you’re going to work in this industry, you need to see what a hotel room and a hotel kitchen look like.”

Describing the Academy classes in further detail, she said, “A cool part is we have a piece on well-being because if you don’t take care of yourself and you’re stressed out, you’re not going to do as good of a job as you can.  So we have a class on Stress Management and Well-being.

“Our first class is on Communication.  And one of the things we talk about is how to listen well, so you can listen to the customer.  Students learn the importance of eye contact, smiling, and looking approachable.  Now that people are having to wear masks, instead of doing my usual lesson on smiling, I have everybody smile underneath their masks and everybody has to look at each other and see if they can tell this person is smiling just by their eyes.  So we’re teaching how you smile with a mask on.  And since you can’t see the customer’s expression, you need to be thoughtful and read their body language – – are they happy, concerned, questioning?

“The class after that is on Customer Service, internal as well as external.  The internal part is if we want to serve our customers well, we need to get along with each other within the organization.  We give lots of examples from Disney, which is known for great customer service.  Then we talk about customer service in the hospitality industry.

“During the first week of the second Academy, we’re having a panel with leaders in the hospitality industry talk about their career paths and how they got into the industry, and how it makes them feel; for example, what is stressful, and what are the joys of this career.  Examples of panelists are a Human Resources Manager and a Guest Experience Coordinator.

“One of our classes is on Conflict Management so I’m going to teach them about difficult situations, such as someone is screaming at you, or crying, and we have role play scenarios where one student plays the role of the rude customer, and the students can apply some of the things they’re learning in the classroom.

“We’re doing Unconscious Bias Reduction in the workplace.  This is a great opportunity for students to learn how we view people and find out if they have unconscious biases that they don’t realize.

“We have a class on Attitude.  Employers want people to have a positive attitude when serving customers.

“We have a Team Building class.  Participants take a personality assessment and discover their strengths and weaknesses, and how to recognize other people’s personalities and how to work with people different than themselves.

“We’re going to have a community job fair on May 9 with different employers stationed at tables.  The students who participated in the program will have the opportunity to walk around and talk to these prospective employers.

“Last week, I took our flyer and went to all the hotels in Merced.  The managers were nice and listened to me and when I told them about the program, the thing they were most interested in is the Community Job Fair day and they were excited the students would be available to find out about job openings.”

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