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Culinary Academy of Las Vegas reaches historic employment rate through support services

Posted at 5:54 PM, Feb 24, 2023

The Culinary Academy of Las Vegas is serving as a national model by pulling people out of unemployment through support services. The academy says it's making it so anybody interested in the hospitality sector can take that next big step in their career.

Born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, Marta Mejia says she knew she wanted to work on the Las Vegas Strip. She attended the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, a nonprofit hospitality training institute, to help her achieve that goal.

After 16 years in the industry, she needed more training at the institute to get a promotion.

"Actually, when everything was happening for the promotion, the reason for that was because I want to get a house," Mejia said. "And so, as a single mother, it's very challenging, right? It's one income. Right now, where the houses are at, it's so expensive. So, my goal is always to make more money, but I also want to have a purpose behind it."

She had the benefit of getting paid while receiving training. It's something she says is necessary to raise her daughter.

"Without that, I probably wouldn't have done it on my own," Mejia said.

Ana Puljic, director of programs & outreach at the institute, says they started offering support services in 2019.

"Supportive services goes anywhere from covering the tuition cost," Puljic said. "Every program has a tuition attached to it, to childcare, transportation and also referrals to our community partners."

Puljic says those community partners are 37 properties on the Strip. With the support services, she says their employment rate is up to 93%.

"Before that, it was very challenging," Puljic said. "It's like, 'Well, my babysitter got a job, I can't leave my kid at home. I don't know what to do. I have no transportation. The bus was late,'" Puljic said.

She says she's witnessed countless students find a job after getting help.

Getting well-trained professionals in the hospitality sector will be increasingly important. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports leisure and hospitality added 128,000 positions in January. That's the most growth of any job sector. The bureau expects 1.9 million jobs will be added by the year 2031.

Puljic says she recommends other programs across the country be present in the community and form great partnerships to help students get hired.

"Listen what the needs of the communities are, but also make sure that you provide what the workforce it's expecting from you," Puljic said.

Mejia says she is incredibly grateful for the support she's received to work her way up in the industry.

"Once you follow that purpose and you do things that you actually enjoy, the money will always come," Mejia said. "So, I've always been the type to just level up in whatever way I can."