Experience Columbus Launches Diversity Apprenticeship Program

A Sponsored Message From Experience Columbus

Author: Curt Wagner       

Columbus Skyline

Already recognized for its support of underrepresented groups, Columbus has launched an apprenticeship program to help close a racial equity gap in the tourism community. (Andy Spessard)

In 2020, Experience Columbus sent strong messages that the city stands against racial injustice and restated its support of racial minorities, the LGBTQ+ population, and people with disabilities. The city is now expanding its diversity initiatives with the launch of a new Diversity Apprentice Program to help overcome underrepresentation in the tourism, hospitality, and the events industries.

Experience Columbus and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission have partnered with Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM), an industry resource for diversity expertise that created the Diversity Apprentice Program, which was designed to help diverse candidates gain work experience and mid-level jobs.

Shannon Jones

The apprentices “could actually impact the culture of the organization.” — Shannon Jones

To shepherd Columbus’s program, the DMO hired Shannon Jones, who has been doing similar DEI work in education for several years, as its first-ever director of diversity, equity, and inclusion programming.

According to Jones, the program will help close a significant racial equity gap in the Central Ohio hospitality community. In 2020, nearly 28 percent of Columbus hospitality employees identified as Black, Asian American, or Hispanic, while 73 percent identified as white, according to a study by Tourism Economics. Yet 36 percent the city’s population is Black, Hispanic, and Asian American, Jones said.

“The numbers don’t match,” she said. “From a hospitality standpoint, we want to make sure our industry’s racial diversity matches what is existing in Columbus. This is another way to ensure people of color in our community have an opportunity to shape our community. Holistically people of color are not necessarily represented in the ways that they need to be. And I think Columbus is really committed to ensuring that the people who make decisions look like all the people who live in Columbus.”

Columbus kept the eligibility standards broad, Jones said, allowing anyone at least 18 years of age with a high-school diploma or GED who self-identifies as Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Color to apply. More than 50 candidates have applied for six available apprenticeships.

Once they are hired, the six will have the opportunity to choose a tourism, hospitality, events, venue, or sports career path that aligns with their professional career goals. They will gain 600 hours of paid, hands-on work experience over six months at one or more of the following host organizations:

  • Cameron Mitchell Restaurants
  • COSI (Center of Science and Industry)
  • Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Columbus Regional Airport Authority
  • Concord Hospitality Enterprises
  • Experience Columbus
  • Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
  • Greater Columbus Convention Center
  • Greater Columbus Sports Commission
  • Hilton Columbus — Downtown
  • Hyatt Regency Columbus
  • Jordan Hospitality Group
Experience Columbus

Columbus’s population is 36 percent Black, Hispanic, and Asian American, but only 28 percent of the city’s hospitality employees identify in those groups. (Levi Ely/Experience Columbus)

After successfully completing the program, the six will be offered a mid-level position such as a coordinator or a manager with one of the organizations where they apprenticed, Jones said.

“Obviously the program is not going to get them directly to a CEO position — that’s not the goal,” Jones said. “The goal is to provide a high level of opportunities within the organization where they can have a say in how the organization is run. They could actually impact the culture of the organization.”

While the apprenticeship program provides opportunities for the six individuals as well as improves representation within the hospitality and related industries, it also helps Experience Columbus spread its message about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As part of the program, the host organizations will receive DEI training through a partnership with the YWCA.



Jones recognized another positive impact as she was interviewing candidates for the program. “Many of the [applicants] have said to me, ‘This is the first time I have interviewed with a Black person,’” Jones recounted. “I think that if we can get people in some of these manager positions, these mid-level positions where they are trying to recruit people, that is going to increase recruitment for people of color.”

Experience Columbus’s forward-thinking approach when working with event planners includes offering resources for groups seeking to deepen connections with local communities, which in turn often helps attract more diverse groups. The apprenticeship program is another avenue for the DMO to attract diverse organizations to meet in the city. Organizations of color likely are going to be more willing to decide to meet in Columbus if they are courted by people of color in leadership or sales roles at events and related businesses, Jones said.

“We definitely want to diversify the types of organizations that come to Columbus,” she said. “And we are working to diversify our vendor lists to ensure the vendors that we use include minority-owned, women-owned, and LGBTQ+-owned [businesses].”

To that end, Experience Columbus worked with two Black-owned marketing firms, MYLE and Warhol & WALL ST., to get the word out about the apprenticeship program.

“Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also the selling point,” Jones said. “It’s not just us talking about DEI, we’re actually trying to do something.”