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FoodGrads Podcast Ep.02: Building a future-forward tourism industry workforce with Joe Baker, OTEC’s Systems Leadership and Integrated Strategy Advisor

On episode 2 of the FoodGrads podcast we have Joe Baker, OTEC’s Systems Leadership and Integrated Strategy Advisor. OTEC (Ontario Tourism Education Corporation) is an Ontario-based collaborative, not-for-profit organization that is a leader in workforce innovation and skills development solutions.

In this episode we learn about what OTEC is and the role they are playing in helping Canadians navigate through the uncertain future of the restaurant industry during COVID specifically through OTEC’s tourism and hospitality emergency rapid response initiative.

Joe and I also talk about COVID’s evolving role in changing the landscape of the restaurant and hospitality industry and how through these difficult times comes the chance for positive change to create a more inclusive, resilient work workforce.

I am happy to have had the chance to speak with Joe Baker. Joe is an eloquent speaker and you can tell he is really passionate about what he does. I left this conversation feeling more hopeful about the future despite the uncertainty of things. As Joe explains it in this episode there are things you can do right now which can help you on your career journey. The first step is to take a step back, breath and reflect.

So enjoy the show!

About Joe Baker

Previously Dean at Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts, Joe led the most significant transformation in the School’s over 50 year history.  He designed programs and operations in an immersive experiential learning environment to align graduates with the skills required to serve the future workforce needs of the Canadian tourism industry.

Prior to joining Centennial, Joe held senior management roles at George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts, including Director of Operations, Services and Partnerships.  Before joining higher education, Joe worked in the restaurant industry both as an entrepreneur as well as in a management capacity at high-profile organizations including the Oliver & Bonacini group and Keg Restaurants.

With a Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership, a Bachelor of Commerce in Hospitality and Tourism Management and extensive Executive Education, Joe is uniquely positioned to serve as a modern, strategic tourism industry leader with a distinct focus on bringing education, training and workforce innovation together to build a resilient and inclusive workforce.
Joe serves on the Board of Directors for Tourism HR Canada and Tourism Industry Association of Ontario,and previously served on OTEC Board of Directors.

Show Notes

What is OTEC and your role in company?

  • OTEC is Ontario Tourism
  • They connect people with resources across Ontario to advance their career
  • Joe works with the senior team and strategic partners to launch the tourism and hospitality emergency rapid response initiative.
  • This rapid response attempted to create a digital space that has resources, assessments and a connection to the job market

Does this program include skills which are not on the technical side?

  • Yes, Joe speaks about how people in the restaurant industry need reliance and flexibility to navigate the industry. They need to understand themselves and their skills so they can pivot
  • The platform includes assessments which lead you to the resources you need to fill the gaps you have in your soft skills
  • Joe says that this is the future of the work force
  • The most important thing to remember is you are the one who is in control of your career journey. You should know where are you at in terms of skills, what can you do to grow and know where to go to find that. It is all about having a growth mindset.

If you are a young person who is interested in using OTEC’s services. How would you go about using the services?

  • OTEC is trying to create that online platform which becomes the digital space for people to come assess themselves and improve their skills
  • tourismhospitalityworkers.ca/
  • They are looking for workers to fill their online survey to get feedback
  • We talk about how my father lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic and OTEC is a great website to send him over to
  • Even though he is out of work this is a great time to assess your skills and even upgrade skills
  • Joe Baker says that the tourism industry is Ontario’s education classroom. You get to learn about yourself and learn where you can go

What do you think the future of these industries is going to look like? Is there hope and should people still continue to pursue careers in the industry?

  • Joe believes no one knows how to predict the future. Especially with the pandemic it is difficult to determine how things will be in the long term. But we know that this is a good opportunity to pause and learn more about ourselves and use the time to update our skills.
  • The business model of the food service industry will change. This could be an opportunity for positive change. We can refocus on positive, inclusive workers which can directly impact the customers.
  • What people are experiencing is uncertainty and that has caused a wrinkle in the experiences that guests have.
  • No matter what your position is even if you are not front facing with the customer you are still contributing to the experience of a guest. The way to deal with the uncertainty is to take it one table and counter at a time
  • We talk about how we are living through moment in history and talk about reflecting where are now and where we are in the future. Joe talks about reflecting about where you want to be in the future and looking at what you can do right now. It’s always okay to step back, breath and reflect.
  • Joe went into education because what he loved the most about his work his helping other people be better at what they want to do. He was able to network and transition into the education sector. Joe felt that he wanted to move in the tourism workforce industry because contrary what many people believe many people do not from colleges and universities. There is another important pillar for this industry from the workplace development industry.
  • Centennial college
  • Tourism HR Canada
  • Tourism Industry Association of Canada
  • Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association
  • Hospitality Workers Association
  • Future Skills
  • Hope is really important right now. Put pieces together now that can take that hope and turn it into a strategy

What does a good workplace look like? What can workers and owners do to create this environment?

  • Employers should take a moment to think about the environment they are creating. Are they including empathy, inclusiveness in these plans?
  • People give their best when they feel safe to just be human. This patience and support will go onto the guests.

For people out of work what should they be doing right now so they can get back on their feet and go back into the restaurant sector?

  • It is okay to pursue a job just to pay the bills than you should do. Take the short-term opportunity to pay your bills. You can do do two parallel paths at the same time
  • Look to OTEC to reengage into the industry
  • Do not give up and get back on your feet
  • It is okay NOT to be okay. So many people are in the same position as you

Why is the hospitality and tourism industry is a great place to work?

  • It is a great place to work if you want to contribute to something bigger to yourself
  • It is a big place to work as long as you understand that the core of the industry is about creating memorable experiences for guests and people around you. You contribute to amplifying the people around and give you a place to that you create purpose

What advice would you give to someone wanting to enter into the tourism and hospitality industry?

  • People should first know what they are passionate about first. Then find and work in that space where you can work within you passion
  • What is it that you can grow and learn right now during this pandemic that you can align yourself, your passion and your skills for now and the future.

Where you can find Joe Baker

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