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Teaching the tricks of the hospitality trade is Algonquin’s top priority

Algonquin College restaurant
Cory Haskins, left, and Michael Tarnowski at the Restaurant International at Algonquin College.

When it comes to training the next generation of talent in Ottawa, the Algonquin College School of Business and Hospitality has always taken a thorough approach, ensuring students have the knowledge and tools they need to be successful. 

But, amidst a major talent shortage and constantly changing business environment, how do you make sure graduates can effectively transition those skills to the workplace right out the gate? 

For the Algonquin College School of Business and Hospitality the answer is simple: Go beyond business theory and provide students real-world working experiences.

By creating on-campus opportunities for students to hone their skills, the School of Business and Hospitality has positioned itself as a major source of talent in Ottawa, as well as a place for students to fast-track their career success.

Learning the tricks of the trade at Algonquin College

While the faculty has found enormous success working with companies off-campus, the School of Business and Hospitality has also developed unique offerings for hands-on learning right in its own backyard. 

Through several learning enterprises – on-campus businesses operated by students and faculty – participants gain hands-on experience working in the hospitality and tourism industry while also building their confidence and developing critical thinking and collaboration skills.

“These are spaces where students can pull together all that they’ve learned in their theory and lab courses and see it come to life,” says Cory Haskins, academic chair for the School of Business and Hospitality. “It’s a safe learning environment where students are supported by faculty to fine tune their skills and build their confidence.”

Restaurant International, for example, is a live public-serving restaurant where students from Culinary, Bartending, Sommelier, Hotel Management, Bachelor of Hospitality and Tourism and the Culinary Arts and Food Science Degree participate in front and back-of-the-house operations, including creating menus, preparing food and managing dining services.

With an abundance of students flowing through the restaurant, it becomes not only a learning centre, but a lively, realistic picture of what it’s like to work in industry. 

“We have a lot of regular customers who come back because they love going in that environment and connecting with the students as they each have their own story,” says Haskins, adding that customers will almost always have a new server since students rotate through all areas of the restaurant. “There’s a real energy that the students bring, and everyday is something new.” 

By challenging students to go out of their comfort zone and experience all aspects of the restaurant business from cooking to serving, they are also receiving a well-rounded view of what it’s like to work in the industry, said Haskins.

The restaurant also allows students to go one step further and flaunt their creativity by collaborating with other programs, throwing events, hosting buffets and experimenting with new recipe creations – an added bonus by having the enterprise on-campus.

“This is a real benefit to our students but also to the business community because we have graduates finishing the program job-ready,” adds Haskins. “Our faculty are industry veterans, meaning students are absorbing, timely and relevant information from these experiences, making their skills directly transferable to the working world.”

Mastering people skills

The AC Salon, Spa and Boutique has similar functionalities, allowing students to gain experience in a ‘live’ setting. 

With two 26-chair hair styling salons, as well as two aesthetics labs, students can showcase their skills on real customers – some of whom have been coming to AC Salon & Spa for years, says Michael Tarnowski, academic chair at Algonquin College.

“These learning enterprises allow us to go above and beyond applied learning because we have real clients involved,” he says. “Our students walk-the-walk, which is so much more efficient for businesses looking to hire. It helps our students get comfortable quickly.” 

By getting direct feedback from customers and clients, students who complete their classes at Algonquin leave the program with not only the industry skills needed to be successful but the soft skills that are in such high demand by the industry. 

“These opportunities bring so much more than just what we learn in the classroom,” adds Tarnowski. “It’s exposing these individuals to teamwork, conflict, problem solving and time management… all things that are typically learned on the job.” 

With the variety of experiential learning opportunities on offer through the Algonquin College School of Business and Hospitality means students are graduating with a wealth of knowledge and experience that they previously did not have, adds Haskins, which becomes a win-win for both graduates and the broader business community.

“If you’re looking for job-ready individuals, there’s no question this is where you come,” he says. 

And, for anyone looking for a great meal or a day at the salon and spa, they can also do that too.