A new vocational school is helping people supported by Epic Opportunities secure employment in the tourism, hospitality and retail sectors.
The Manitoba Tourism Education College (MTEC) was established by the Manitoba Tourism Education Council in November 2014. The mandate of the not-for-profit private school is to assist the local tourism industry by providing training for prospective managers, supervisors and other employees.
Students enrolled in the college receive six to eight weeks of in-class training as well as a 30-hour practicum with an industry partner. Although exact numbers are not yet available, MTEC officials say the vast majority of the school’s students have found employment soon after graduation.
To date, two people supported by Epic Opportunities have participated in MTEC training programs while a third is scheduled to take part sometime later this year. One person has already secured employment at a prominent Winnipeg hotel.
While the college is open to everyone, Epic Opportunities Employment Consultant Heidrun Bittner says it offers people with intellectual disabilities an “awesome opportunity” that isn’t always available to them.
Bittner says the education and work experience they gain by enrolling at the college puts them on more even footing with other potential employees and makes them more attractive candidates in the eyes of employers.
“Employers are always looking for educated employees. That’s why we thought it would be a great thing for people we support to get an education and work experience to help them get a foot in the door,” she says.
“It’s also a great opportunity to build relationships with employers and show them what people with intellectual disabilities are able to do.”
Bittner says one of the advantages MTEC has over other private vocational schools is that it offers shorter programs (classes are six to eight weeks in length) at more affordable rates (tuition is $1,500 for most students).
Darlene has been supported by Epic Opportunities since 1993 and is the agency’s first graduate of MTEC. She graduated from the college’s housekeeping room attendant training program last October and recently worked as a breakfast attendant at a west Winnipeg hotel.
Although she had been interested in working in the hotel industry for some time, Darlene had become frustrated after being passed over for jobs she had applied for. She says the program at MTEC provided her with the skills and confidence she needed to pursue her career goals.
“I really liked it. It was very good. I learned a lot of different stuff like [how to handle] chemicals and guest services and first aid and CPR,” she says.
“The instructors were really helpful too. At first I was kind of nervous. I didn’t think I could do it. But they would keep telling me ‘You can do it.’ I was so happy when I passed. I was excited I did it.”
That kind of reaction is music to the ears of Shannon Fontaine, CEO of the college and the Manitoba Tourism Education Council.
Fontaine says college officials have made every effort to make all five of the programs MTEC offers (food and beverage server, front desk clerk, line cook, housekeeping room attendant and retail sales associate) inclusive regardless of a person’s ability or experience.
“We want to try and be as inclusive as we can be. We’ve never gone and recruited any one group specifically,” she says. “If a person is a good fit and has the interest and the ability, why not train them? Businesses are looking for employees who can do the job.”
Fontaine says including people with different levels of experience and ability will ultimately benefit businesses in the hospitality sector because it makes them more reflective of the society they serve.
“It’s good for employers to have a more diverse workforce,” she says.