Brenda Urias chairs the Central Florida advisory board for the NAF Academy of Hospitality & Tourism. As a 17-year-old at Colonial High School, she landed an internship at AAA because of the program. Today, she is celebrating her 20th year at the company, where she works as a manager of travel marketing programs.
Brenda Urias and NAF are Mentoring the Next Generation of High-Achieving Tourism Employees
With tourism supporting one in every three jobs across Central Florida, the industry driving our economy constantly needs talented young workers. Mentoring the next generation for success — not only on the job, but also in school and life — is crucial to our region’s future.
That is why Visit Orlando is proud to partner with the NAF Academy of Hospitality & Tourism, a national network of education, business and community leaders helping students chart career paths in one of the world’s largest industries.
As you might imagine, NAF has a thriving presence in Central Florida, with Academies of Hospitality & Tourism at seven high schools in Orange and Osceola counties. At the center of it all is Brenda Urias, a 1998 graduate of the program at Colonial High School who now chairs the Academy’s local advisory board.
NAF’s Academy of Hospitality & Tourism has been operating in Central Florida high schools for 30 years. How has the program shaped the lives of young people during that time?
“This Academy has transformed the high school experience for many students across Central Florida. It brings the classroom to the workplace and the workplace into the classroom. Students access professional mentorship, build career networks and gain exposure to the business environment. Many students even start their career paths before they finish high school!”
As someone who graduated from the Academy, life has come full circle for you. In what ways did your experience prepare you for success?
“The Academy served as a guiding tool that paved my educational path and provided me with opportunities that helped sculpt my career. All of the experiences in the Academy gave me an understanding and a profound passion for the hospitality and tourism industry.
I had the opportunity to intern with AAA Travel as a student in the program — and I am honored to say I will soon be celebrating 20 years with the company.
I now volunteer my time and talents to the program, because I know firsthand the impact it made on my success.”
“Graduates are much more progressive than their peers. These students have studied the industry and participated in on-site familiarization trips, job shadows and even internships. They are given the tools to be successful, and their learning curve is shorter than most. They see the connection to their future, and employers benefit from having a pipeline of skilled workers.”
What kind of students are part of the program, and how are they being mentored to overcome challenges in the classroom and on the job?
“The Academy is open to serve all students with a desire to be future ready. The majority of NAF students are minorities living below or near the poverty line. With a 96 percent senior graduation rate, the Academy offers a fantastic opportunity for education and increased earning potential — things that can change their financial trajectory and, one day, carry over to future generations.”
What else should people know about the Academy?
“The program provides a true partnership between students, schools, local businesses and corporate partners. It’s an absolute win-win for the entire community!”
President & CEO of Visit Orlando
A LIFETIME OF BENEFITS
Travel-related jobs can jump-start young careers
Think back to your first job. If you grew up in Central Florida, there’s a good chance it might have been at a theme park, hotel, restaurant or any number of area attractions.
If so, you might be interested in some recent research by the U.S. Travel Association. It states that Americans whose first job was in a travel-related industry obtained an average career salary of $81,900, significantly higher than those starting in most other U.S. industries. Even better, 40 percent now earn more than $100,000 a year.
The report, “Travel: America’s Unsung Hero of Job Creation,” reinforces just how important this sector of the economy is to our nation as a whole, particularly for young people looking to gain a foothold on the career ladder. For them, travel jobs provide the flexibility to pursue education and training while gaining real-world experience and charting a viable path to upward mobility.
At Visit Orlando, a big part of our community outreach involves partnering with organizations that mentor high school and college students for success in Central Florida’s largest industry. The NAF Academy of Hospitality & Tourism (profiled at left) is one such group. Another is UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, which has nearly 3,500 students and is the No. 2 hospitality management school in the world.
In conjunction with UCF, Visit Orlando launched the annual Hospitality Job Shadow Day in 2005, and we just wrapped up another year in which dozens of promising students got an up-close and personal look at their future careers.
I’m sure you’ll agree that, as business leaders, creating opportunities for the next generation is one of the most rewarding (and sustaining) things we can do. In my industry, especially, I’m encouraged to see it produces a lifetime of benefits.