Looking for a job? Try Tourism Tech

Although the economy has hit the skids and many people fear losing their jobs, students who graduate from the West Sound Technical Skills Center’s academy of travel, lodging and tourism are still finding work.

So says Fred Howard, an instructor in the program, which includes a paid internship that often turns into permanent employment.

Travel and tourism comprise one of the largest industries in the world and will survive the downturn, according to Patty Lent, group sales manager at Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Silverdale.

Howard said post-Sept. 11 graduates of the West Sound program might only get one or two job offers, instead of the four or five they typically had to chose from in the past. But the fact is, grads are still getting hired with ease.

Students enrolled in the travel and tourism program are juniors and seniors who spend half the day at high school, and the other half in specialized job training under Howard’s tutelage.

Students study geography, the terms and economics of the industry, travel codes and other important job skills.

“I can’t teach exactly what they’ll need to know for a specific job. We emphasize skills like how to dress and how to act (on the job) and we’ve had tremendous success,” Howard said.

Lent has employed interns from Howard’s class in the past and found the relationship works well. They even hired one as a full-time agent, Lent said.

She added that the arrangement often puts students on a career fast track.

“Usually when we hire someone off the street, they have to be a qualified travel agent. The internship gives (students) experience while they are still in the travel academy,” Lent said.

The WestCoast Silverdale Hotel and Cruise Holidays in Silverdale are on the long list of agencies working with Howard to place interns. Some of the businesses are located in Seattle.

“(On the peninsula) they get minimum wage, because that’s what the market supports, but in Seattle students can get $8-$10 an hour,” Howard said.

It is sometimes difficult to prepare students who have 11 or 12 years of academic experience but no exposure to real-world jobs for careers, Howard said.

To counter this, he runs his classroom like a work place. He is the boss, and if students don’t show up they have to call in sick.

On Thursdays, Howard’s students are required to dress in work attire — slacks or a skirt, a collared shirt and shoes which can be shined. Lent applauds the move, and Howard’ work toward boosting student’s employability.

“These are the skills you need for the travel industry, not just computer training, but contact with people,” Lent said.

Students enrolled in the program — there are 44 this year — enjoy the opportunity to focus on their interests.

“This class is preparation for your life,” said Nicole Guerrero, a senior at Olympic High School “You learn about hard work. You have to work hard to get anywhere.”

Guerrero plans to attend Olympic College and transfer to a four-year college before fulfilling her dream of opening a hotel or restaurant.

The toughest part of the class was the unit on airport codes and destinations, said Jolina Fanua, a Central Kitsap High School junior who is enrolled in the program. The best part is being treated like an adult, added Fanua, who wants to work as a travel counselor in an airport.

Howard said he also faces the challenge of countering the negative perception of vocational training programs. Many of his students go on to college, he said, and work to finance their education.

“I have students say, ‘I can work or I can work and go to school,’” Howard said.

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