KISSIMMEE, Fla. — As theme parks, resorts, and restaurants eye a return to full openings, many within Central Florida’s hospitality industry — among others — say they’re struggling to hire workers. But some workers are ditching tourism-related jobs and going back to school to learn new skills

What You Need To Know

  • Some business owners feel many people would rather collect unemployment

  • Economists say the answer is more complex and the job market is changing

  • But a Valencia College training program is helping people learn new skills

Some business owners are convinced their hiring challenge is due to people receiving more on unemployment than they would on the job, economists say the answer is more complex.

The job market is changing, economists say, for factors that include families moving to new locations.

Job seekers tell Spectrum News 13 they too are struggling to find work that comes with pay and benefits that will help their families make ends meet.

Another factor in the changing workforce is that many are simply leaving the hospitality and tourism industry behind, which is often seen as an industry filled with low-paying jobs.

“For me, there was a lot of anxiety looking for jobs and not finding one,” said Thomas Smith-McGehee.

McGehee spent more than 20 years, off and on, working at Walt Disney World.

After months of furlough, McGehee was eventually laid off in late 2020 from his job at Disney where he was a duty manager at the Art of Animation Resort.

He’s now picked up a new part-time gig: Valencia College student.

“This whole thing is taking a chance, but I feel good about being proactive and finding a way to reinvent myself,” McGehee said. “I’m not interested in joining the hospitality market.”

McGehee said simply put, hospitality is too unstable.

During the pandemic “… Lockheed Martin never stopped. Disney did,” McGehee said.

He’s since gone from making magic to making circuit boards.

It’s part of a 10-week program, wherein the end, McGehee will earn a certification and a foot in the door in an industry where workers are in high demand.

“Our classes are based on a model where 80% of what our students are doing is hands-on in the field,” said Carolyn McMorran, assistant vice president for professional continuing education at Valencia College’s Accelerated Skills Training Program. “It helps students gain confidence and competence in the skills they’re going to need for the workplace.”

McMorran said Valencia’s Accelerated Skills Training Program can help students earn certifications in a variety of career fields within a matter of weeks or months.

“Last year we served 425 students, this year, we’ll serve close to 850 students,” McMorran said.

By fall, Valencia College plans to grow enrollment by another 500 student openings above that when they open their fifth accelerated training campus in the Princeton Oaks Industrial Park.

Job training programs across the country are reporting rapid enrollment growth.

CareerSource Central Florida stated since July 2020, it has helped more than 5,000 people go through job training programs, providing many with grants and financial support.

McMorran said that is the draw for many, especially older workers, where they can earn certifications with limited cost and limited time.

The program is focused on five marquee industries:

  • Healthcare
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing, Distribution, Logistics, and Supply Chain
  • Information Technology

With promises of hands-on job search assistance, McMorran said they’re also seeing more and more older students enroll in the program.

Like McGehee, Moses Reyes enrolled in the program after 25 years in the hospitality industry, recently selling restaurant equipment.

“The pandemic put a gluten into that business,” Reyes said.

Reyes enrolled in the program in February and plans to land a job a short drive from his home in July after completing the program.

Despite the challenge of learning new skills, Reyes said moving out of hospitality gives his family stability and peace of mind.