Expert Interviews: Nancy Campbell, Front Office Operations Instructor at Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC)
“Unemployed or underemployed? Add to their skill sets to become more employable or maybe step into a new area.”
Tell us a little about Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) and your specialty:
Philadelphia OIC has been around since the mid-1960s and was founded by the Rev. Dr. Leon Sullivan in response to the poverty an unequal employment practices of that day. Dr. Sullivan's vision is still being carried out today as the organization still "works to open opportunities for all members of the community, helping people everywhere get the skills they need to get good jobs and advance in their careers." (www.philaoic.org) The mission to serve the unemployed, the underemployed and homeless teens and young adults, and help them to gain self-sufficiency is what the staff at Philadelphia OIC are committed to and put their energies into every day.
What do you do there?
I am the Front Office Operations Instructor, meaning I am teaching participants how to serve at the front desk of a hotel, mainly, but also to successfully serve in any forward-facing position that deals directly with customers or guests. This could be in retail, in custodial/janitorial service, or even at a non-profit; I have had students serve their internship at our own offices, assisting our receptionist with greeting guests and prospective participants.
You have other areas of expertise; tell us about your background?
I am an educator by training, having a Master's of Education degree in Curriculum & Teaching from Howard University. I have worked in college and career readiness preparation for over 30 years. My longest experience in this field was with Philadelphia Academies, Inc. (PAI), the educational intermediary organization that created the original career academy model for high schools. While with PAI, I was Senior Program Manager for their Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism (HRT) Academies ("Travel" has since been added to that mix) where I became more closely involved with the hospitality industry. During that time, I also became a member of the Board of Advisors for what was then the Multicultural Affairs Congress, now PHL Diversity, which is a division of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. This gave me an up-close-&-personal view into the hospitality industry from the ground up, because the HRT Academies were preparing the next generation of hospitality professionals to enter the workforce or pursue additional training. I've gained invaluable insight into the industry over the years through my interactions with hospitality professionals at multiple levels in both the workforce and the academic arenas. Hospitality as a career path is exciting and multi-layered, and I have enjoyed my involvement with it. I also have a passion for college readiness and success and, to that end; I have been a member of the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable (PCPR) for 20+ years. PCPR is a consortium of college access and success professionals from both the secondary and the post-secondary sides of education. We provide regular forums for these professionals to discuss relevant issues on a regular basis, as well as professional development opportunities with experts in the field. I am also still a part-time Adjunct at Community College of Philadelphia in the Workforce and Economic Innovations Division of Corporate Solutions. I have taught Business Writing, Email Etiquette and Social Media, Communications Strategies, Public Speaking, Customer Service, and Team Building courses.
The hospitality industry took a huge hit in the economy because of the COVID-19, how did OIC manage through the crisis with their students? Graduates?
It has definitely presented challenges that no one expected. But some students were able to stay connected and participate in a virtual course. We were actually able to partner with the Work$Ready organization to create a virtual course on Career Development, which we were able to tie directly to hospitality through our relationship with the American Hotel Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI). Work$ Ready provided the material on career readiness and AHLEI provided modules specifically geared toward customer service in the hospitality industry. This allowed us to pull in some of the students who would have started with us back on March 16th, who could not begin as planned due to COVID-19. Before we pulled that together, though, we did our best to disseminate information to all our participants and graduates about assistance throughout the pandemic - things such as information on FMLA expansion during the pandemic, information from the School District for students and parents, emergency rental assistance, and even just some motivational quotes to keep people's spirits up.
How are your students holding up today?
As I mentioned, we have been shut down since March 16th, which was the day we were to have started a new cohort of students. But we have reached out to those would-be students, as well as recent graduates, with information and resources we felt could assist them and their families throughout the pandemic. Those who responded were grateful for the information and assistance.
Tell us about your students, who are you teaching?
Our student population typically comes from any of Philadelphia's neighborhoods and can range in age from 19 to 65! They are unemployed or underemployed; they may be looking to add to their skill sets to become more employable in their field, or they may want to change industries and work in something new. They may also be re-entering their communities from incarceration or may be new to the area. Because our typical students come from such a broad range of groups, this also means that there is a very broad range of competency levels and learning styles; nevertheless, we do our utmost to meet each student where they are and raise the skill levels to a place they are able to move forward in the workforce and be successful, whatever their chosen career path happens to be.
What are some of the greatest skillset challenges you see your students struggling with this industry?
In terms of skill sets, some of our students struggle with how to handle disgruntled customers or overbearing supervisors while remaining professional themselves. This can be a challenge at any age, but our younger students seem to struggle here the most, which is why we present conflict resolution strategies from several different perspectives. This is discussed and acceptable strategies are presented in our Career Development sessions, as well as our Life Skills sessions. Though not a "skill set" per se, one other thing that we found out, particularly with the virtual course that we created, is that the digital divide is about more than just internet access. Although there were struggles with stable connectivity, the other issue was that most of our students were accessing our course - through Zoom - on their mobile phones and not a laptop. This means that they were limited in their ability to switch back and forth between Zoom and other programs/apps in order to get the most out of the presentations during class time.
What are some of the programs OIC offer?
Wow, we have a lot to offer! Our programs include the Hospitality Training Institute, HTI, which consists of Front Office Operations, Culinary Arts, and Guest Room Attendant/Environmental Services. We also have Computer Literacy, SMART Energy, BankWork$, Drone Technology, and HiSET (GED Equivalency). Philadelphia OIC also operates an accelerated high school for college and career readiness, our Workforce Academy. Oh yes, we also have a re-entry program, SOAR, for individuals who have interacted with the criminal justice system and reside in designated high-poverty, high-crime communities in the city. SOAR's goal is to help these individuals successfully transition back into their communities by becoming "productive, responsible, and law-abiding citizens." (www.philaoic.org)
Tell us about the Hospitality Training Institute Scholarships? How can people apply?
Actually, HTI has offered a continuing education scholarship for OIC Alums in the past. So someone would have had to successfully complete one of the training courses in the Hospitality Training Institute - either Front Office Operations, Culinary Arts, or Guest Room Attendant/Environmental Services (Housekeeping) - in good standing and want to continue their education in hospitality.
Tell us about the After School Programs?
Unfortunately, the funding for our After School program is no longer available as of last year.
Are there summer programs? If not what keeps OIC busy during this time?
Because we operate mostly adult workforce programs, we are still busy in the summer - at least we have been prior to COVID-19! Our workforce programs operate on a cohort model, anywhere from 6 to 8 to12 weeks, depending on the industry. Right now, we are working to possibly create a hybrid model - part remote, part face-to-face (depending on CDC and City of Philadelphia guidelines and restrictions) to possibly begin in the late-Summer or early-Fall. These would involve our HTI, SMART Energy, Drone Technology, and BankWork$ programs.
How can people learn more about the programs to sign up?
Anyone can go to our website, www.philaoic.org, and see all the programs we have available and how to enroll. We also recently launched several digital billboards advertising several of our program offerings.
Is there anything else you’ll like to share with the readers?
I would like to say that, although these past several months have been beyond what anyone could have imagined in terms of the impact of COVID-19 on our societies, both nationally and globally, do not miss the lessons that this time should have taught us.
- Slow down!
- Take time for yourself to take care of yourself - I use the analogy with my students of being on an airplane when the flight attendants are going through the safety procedures: when they get to the part about the oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling if the cabin loses pressure, you are told that, if you are accompanying a child or elder, put YOUR mask on FIRST, then help the other person with theirs. Why? Because if you cannot breathe, you cannot help anyone else! Self-care has been neglected by so many for so long, it's a serious problem.
- Carry out your relationships face to face; technology is wonderful and I love it, but nothing beats the touch of a hand or a hug - but do keep your distance for now!
- If you learned to live without something you thought you couldn't live without for all this time, reconsider whether you really needed it or not. (I'll get down from my soapbox now!)
Thank you Nancy for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us about your expertise in the hospitality training space, I’m sure this will be beneficial to our readers.
Thank you, Gracie, for allowing me to share with your readers. I hope I have been able to help someone or give some insight that helps someone move forward. This was a pleasure!
Please contact Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) if you are looking to get into the hospitality industry or want to keep your skills sharp in the industry.
Continue to watch out for more interviews, tips, and advice from amazing experts like Nancy Campbell.
Nancy, as usual, it’s been a pleasure!
Until next time,
Check out the video chat between Nancy and Gracie:
To learn more about programs at the Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) - www.philaoic.org