Blecher Leads Charge for In Demand, Demanding DegreePublished: April 1, 2009
Hospitality Foodservice and Hotel Management, until recently an option under the degree of Dietetics and Food Administration, is now a separate bachelor’s degree unto itself, which makes perfect sense to Lee Blecher.
The program director and a faculty member with 20-plus years on campus, Blecher came to CSULB from the foodservice industry, and feels that the hospitality foodservice and hotel industry offers numerous career opportunities for students who graduate from the program.
“Foodservice and lodging managers account for one of the largest number of managerial professions in the country. There are slightly under 2 million people that work in the hotel industry and approximately 13 million people work in the foodservice and restaurant industry in this country, so the hotel and food industry is quite large and contributes significantly to the nation’s gross domestic product,” said Blecher. “According to statistics from the National Restaurant Association, the foodservice industry accounts for over 9 percent of the nation’s job base. This is fairly significant.”
Blecher also noted that the industry, though not entirely, has traditionally been more immune to economic downturns when compared to many other industries.
“The foodservice and restaurant industry in particular is fairly resistant to economic downturns,” offered Blecher. “Although some restaurants have been hit hard with the current economic slowdown, people do continue to go out to eat. Often what happens is that patrons ‘trade down’ and go to restaurants that are more economical. Quick service and casual family-style restaurants that offer comfort foods are faring much better in the current economical climate. Taverns and bars having been holding their own pretty well.
“The current decrease in business traveling will negatively affect the hotel industry this coming year. Vacation travel is anticipated to remain reasonably strong, but vacationers will be spending less money as they cut their trips shorter and stay in more economical hotels. To maintain customer bases for when times improve, both restaurants and hotels have been offering a lot of coupons, value pricing, and discounts.”
All-in-all, the industry survives fairly well, according to Blecher, and it’s anticipated that a turnaround will be coming at the end of 2009 or in 2010, though things keep changing week by week. As things turn around, however, there will be a continued need for highly qualified managers in the industry. The National Restaurant Association projects a 14 percent increase in the number of foodservice managers needed within the next 10 years, which is higher than the 9 percent growth rate in the total labor force projected over the same time period.
So why the degree status after all these years?
“For one thing, it was buried before,” said Blecher. “It was an option under the degree of Dietetics and Food Administration, which made it hard to promote from a public relations point of view. Students were always saying ‘I didn’t know you had a major in this,’ so it wasn’t very visible.
“We got some feedback from some of our alums as well as from individuals in the industry questioning why the degree was under Dietetics and Food Administration when they were going into hotel management,” he added. “It just didn’t look right on a resumé. The new degree heading is much more appropriate. It’s more in line with what other CSU programs are doing. In the process of elevating the program to a separate degree, we enhanced the curriculum, expanded some of our hotel courses and created concentrations of specialization under the degree. The core of the curriculum is basically the same, but we definitely enhanced the course offerings in some areas. It’s really exciting to be part of this program to see it develop and grow.”
Blecher also noted that about three years ago, the CSU Chancellor’s office did an industry needs assessment and the results indicated the CSU system was California’s largest provider of individuals with bachelor’s degrees in the field and it needed to make sure it met the industry needs. In turn, campuses were asked to increase their capacity.
“That was sort of the springboard for us to move forward and further develop the program,” said Blecher.
Of course, working at a university, Blecher feels getting a degree is of the utmost importance, but believes it’s especially true for those anticipating careers in hospitality, foodservice and hotel management.
“In the past, a lot of people didn’t feel obliged to get a bachelor’s degree to go into management positions in hotels and restaurants,” said Blecher, “but it has evolved into a field where you need a bachelor’s degree or you’re going to hit a ceiling. That, in itself, provides a need for programs to provide bachelor’s degrees and the Cal State system is the main one that will do that in the state.”
Despite the economic downturn and some murky forecasts ahead, Blecher said the industry as a whole is cautious, but upbeat about its future.
“The hotel and restaurant industry is not doom and gloom when you go to the meetings,” he said. “It’s more about how they can weather this. They’re not holding back on some of the great initiatives that are occurring in the industry, like promoting sustainability, going green, and tackling nutritional issues.”
It’s not only a degree that is in demand, but it is a demanding degree as well.
“In general, we have more inquiries for our students than we have students,” said Blecher, “so it’s an area of demand for good people. We have active internship programs with the local industry and our students are required to get 800 hours of work experience as a prerequisite to their internship program, so that means they are already working in the industry, usually getting paid. The students have contact with the industry and the industry reaches out to our program to try to hire our students.”
A very active advisory board made up of local industry leaders helps to support the program and aids in sponsoring an annual charity golf tournament to raise funds that primarily go for student scholarships (see details below). The advisory board also provides feedback and assists with outreach and placements efforts. During the year students are exposed to speakers, industry tours, panel discussions with industry leaders, and an increasingly popular job fair in the spring.
“When we bring students in, we tell them there are many things you can do in this industry, but we want them to stay open and think big about their future career,” said Blecher. “We want them to feel that they can not only be the restaurant or catering manager, or the director of sales and marketing, or the food and beverage director or front office manager at a hotel, but also think in terms of being the general manager, regional manager, or corporate V.P. This is why the curriculum is intended to also enhance some of the soft, transferable skills needed in leadership positions such as interpersonal communication and presentation skills. It’s a broad-based approach to education that also includes industry specific knowledge, plus hands-on experience.
“We also have a fairly strong emphasis on the globalization of the industry, the global view. Ronnie Yeh, faculty in the program, last year developed a study abroad program in the summer where students could take the class Global Issues and Hotel and Restaurant Management while traveling to and experiencing Taiwan. The first year of the program was very successful and I look forward to bringing students on this program again. These types of learning opportunities help broaden a person and make them more likely to succeed in leadership positions.”
The upcoming 7th Annual Hospitality Foodservice and Hotel Management Charity Golf Tournament will be held on Wednesday, April 15 at El Dorado Golf Course in Long Beach. For more information regarding the tournament and/or the banquet and silent auction following the event, contact Blecher at 562/985-4493 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.