By Vivek Sharma

No other industry in the U.S. has encountered as deep of an impact from the COVID-19 pandemic than the leisure and hospitality sector. In March and April of this year, the industry laid off more than 8 million people, then rebounded in May, adding 1.2 million jobs.

As more states open again for business and companies ask employees to return, some workers formerly employed in these service industries may reconsider whether to use their valuable skills in another line of work. While it will take time for the economy to completely rebound and attain pre-pandemic business levels, Americans who have been forced to stay at home for the past three months are eager to get away in search of relaxation and entertainment. The U.S. leisure and hospitality industry will play a critical role in making that all happen.

Spearheaded by their skilled workforce, leading hospitality brands worldwide upheld their core values during these adverse times by using their resources to provide food, lodging and comfort to their communities. Companies such as Marriott, Hyatt, Disney, Dominos and Aramark rolled up their sleeves to serve those in need through meaningful contributions and initiatives.

To ensure the leisure and hospitality industry continues to grow, companies also need to invest in their employees who helped them weather this pandemic storm. They can show consumers how they put their people first by providing a holistic review of their overall compensation, healthcare benefits and opportunities for a career-centric education.

“As the U.S. leisure and hospitality sector responds and adapts to the pandemic, it is important for companies throughout the industry to focus on uplifting and tapping into the potential of their employees,” said Tom Staggs, former COO of The Walt Disney Company, who oversaw more than 140,000 Disney Cast Members across three continents during his tenure. “Millions of people from all walks of life start their careers in this industry, and hospitality companies have an opportunity to transform enthusiastic employees into future leaders by initiating strategic education programs.”

Offering high-quality educational opportunities for employees represents one important way to help drive workforce engagement, motivation and resilience, particularly during these uncertain times. As more companies present low or no-cost education programs to their employees, everyone, regardless of job or economic level, can have the opportunity to learn additional skills and obtain quality degrees and certifications.

Investment in education not only benefits the employee but can also align with a company’s strategic priorities. A Lumina Foundation report found that for every dollar spent on workforce education, the organization recouped it and saved an additional $1.29 in talent management costs — a 129 percent ROI.

Strategic education programs pave the way for each individual employee to achieve success while also bolstering a company’s bottom line as the result of an upskilled, dedicated workforce. The value of upskilling lies not only in its inherent benefit for companies but also in the individual impacts it can have for workers.

Upskilling has proven to be so valuable that states like Ohio implemented programs where they pay workers to learn additional skills. In Deloitte’s Global Millennial Survey 2019, of millennials who indicated they plan to leave their current organizations in the next two years, 35% said they plan to do so because there are not enough opportunities to advance, and 28% expressed the lack of learning and development opportunities.

Given all of the resources that companies in the hospitality and service industry gave to help during this pandemic, their success remains vital to our society’s future. Access to higher education signifies a meaningful way for us to move forward in an effective and impactful manner.

Workers throughout the leisure and hospitality industry clearly demonstrated their resilience throughout this crisis and hold the keys to future success not only for themselves, but for companies who hire them. By providing these service-minded employees access to employer-provided higher education, companies can bolster employee loyalty and help workers build long-term careers that enable them to truly thrive throughout their lives.