The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop students at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management from gaining real-world experience that expanded their professional networks and provided insight into how businesses are adapting and evolving to this historic moment in time.
When everything shut down in the spring, faculty and employees at the school moved fast to create a virtual work integrated learning experience for students who were set to complete field placements as part of their program. Instead of starting a field placement or externship with a specific job title or role, students got to interact with professionals in a range of positions in the hospitality sector, from hoteliers to food and beverage managers.
The virtual work integrated learning included weekly online classes with guest speakers, Linkedin Learning workshops, webinars with industry panelists, interviews with professionals and a reflection paper on what the student learned and how they can apply it to a career plan. There were also virtual reality components to this new take on work integrated learning.
“The sheer number of professionals our students were exposed to over the course of the semester via online webinars and speaker sessions was incredible,” Program Coordinator Frank Menezes said. “If the students network with these professionals they stand a great chance of being seen and therefore, if not now, in the near future, landing jobs.”
Problem-solving for industry
As part of a group of five students, Food and Beverage Management student Claire Ventoso (pictured) interviewed the food and beverage manager at the CN Tower about professional challenges he’s facing right now. Her team analyzed the answers, came up with potential solutions and improvements across a range of areas and compiled their findings in a 10-page report, which they presented to the industry partner.
“It really provided an opportunity we wouldn’t have received in a normal placement,” Claire said. “We had to have the mindset of a manager.”
Networking with industry professionals
Claire said she’s established connections with about 20 industry professionals through webinars and got to learn how they reacted and adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s really shown we have to think outside the box, and you may have to rely on people you don’t necessarily think are applicable to you or your company,” she said.
“Even if we don’t use these network connections we’ve made, we’ve learned how to initiate them.”
Xenia Moreu is an international student from Spain in the final semester of the Hospitality - Hotel Operations Management program. She had a placement set up at the Hazelton Hotel, but plans changed when the pandemic hit. While she was disappointed to lose that opportunity, she said the networking connections she gained in her virtual experience made up for it.
“We’ve talked and met with over 20 industry professionals, one more successful than the other, and people from all departments. We’ve touched sales, marketing, revenue management, and we’ve discussed problem solving, hiring processes and how to handle an emergency like this,” Xenia said.
“Now I have a network in Toronto, and when I graduate I have a lot of doors to knock on. I have a lot of people I can reach out to.”