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Ethan Herber manages a portfolio of 15 hotels throughout the country from his downtown Rochester office, handling social media, search engine optimization and marketing for each.

On a typical day, he might work to make sure the hotel shows up in Google searches and craft a few digital ads. Then, he’ll track engagement on social media posts for each of the hotels he oversees online.

It might not be what most envision when they think about the hospitality industry, but it’s a field that has recently seen a lot of change, bringing about more positions such as Herber’s, requiring at least some college or formal education.

It’s this shift, coupled with projected growth in the Rochester area, that has prompted Rochester Community and Technical College to develop a hospitality program. Students will be prepared for the development the region is expected to see with the 20-year, $5.6 billion Destination Medical Center economic initiative.

“DMC is recognizing that along with many jobs that are going to be created in the health care industry, hospitality is the second-fastest growing,” said Michelle Pyfferoen, dean of career and technical education and business partnerships. “They’re seeing that they can’t be as successful as they want to be unless they have the surrounding support services in place to make that happen.”

An additional 300-some workers will be needed by 2024, according to Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projections.

“The industry came to us and said, ‘we need folks,'” Pyfferoen said.

The hospitality program is intended to address the major “shift” in the industry, said John Jimenez, an RCTC business instructor, who’s teaching the first course.

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“Like many industries, the way we’re engaging with our consumers is changing,” Jimenez said.

The Business Management-Hospitality degree program was launched with a “soft opening” in October, with plans to pull in more students this spring. The two-year associate of arts degree will not only be taught in the classroom, but with on-the-job training via internships at local hotels.

It’s geared toward students who might already be in the industry, in entry-level positions, but looking to move up to mid- to upper-level management positions, Pyfferoen said. The first course is in sales and marketing, but the courses cover a range of topics, including accounting, finance, marketing, sales, food and beverage management, and inventory skills, she said.

“They’re seeing that when they’re working in the industry, now, they’re going to learn the concepts or the theory behind what their managers are saying,” Pyfferoen said.

In addition to some of those more concrete skills, training students in “soft” skills, such as customer service and compassion on the job, especially in Rochester, is a key part of the training.

“You have to recognize and address or respond to very, very different customer needs,” Pyefferoen said, which could one minute be someone who’s just changed a life-changing diagnosis, and the next, a bride preparing for a wedding.

A growing and changing industry

The other major part of the curriculum, Jimenez said, is understand how technology has changed the industry.

The way people book hotel rooms has changed with the rise of cell phones and third-party booking sites such as Expedia. Those in the industry need basic “people skills,” but also social media analysis and search engine optimization skills.

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With those changes have come new jobs.

One of the biggest challenges is making sure people understand the industry, said Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about the industry, and what it has to offer,” he said.”There’s a ton of opportunities that people don’t typically think of in the hospitality industry,.”

That’s why he and others are working to expose students to multiple career options.

Often, people use jobs in the field as a “stepping stone” during college, Whalen said. “We’re trying to change that and educate our young people that there are real money-making careers within the four walls of hospitality.”

Because opportunities nationwide are so broad, Pyfferoen said, keeping talent in the Rochester industry has proven difficult. That’s why they’re working to drum up and train local talent.

“We really started looking at how do we build our own and grow our own folks, who have started maybe while they’re in high school in a server, bartender, cook position, and develop those management skills and allow them to move up here,” she said.

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