SkillSmart and Metropolitan Hospitality Group partnership

As we launch SkillSmart with our first hospitality client, MGM National Harbor, we wanted to explore the industry further, specifically how its workforce gets its start and the potential for job growth and career advancement.

As part of our Spotlight Series, we talked with Matthew Carlin, President of the Metropolitan Hospitality Group (MHG) to get his take on the opportunities within the broad industry of hospitality. MHG is the parent company to many popular dining establishments in the Washington, DC area including Circa, Open Road, Trio Grill and Merrifield Beer & Wine.


SkillSmart (SS): How did you get your start in the hospitality industry?

Matthew Carlin (MC): One of my first jobs in high school was at a small, local pizzeria and I loved it. I worked there for years during my summer breaks in college and eventually started managing the restaurant.

(SS): What opportunities do you see for young people in the hospitality industry today?

(MC): The hospitality space has really evolved in the last five years. Today, we see a much more educated consumer who is focused on local, sustainable and quality products. The popularity of the cooking and restaurant shows has created a greater awareness about the talent and creativity required to be great in this industry. The opportunities are endless. You can transition your work with much more flexibility today – someone can go from becoming a brew master to running an entire distillery or from becoming a chef or bartender to managing and leading a restaurant.

(SS): What are the biggest misconceptions about the hospitality industry?

(MC): Years ago the industry wasn’t deemed as desirable as it is today and wasn’t viewed as a field that could become a career growth potential. Today, it’s the opposite. The industry is especially desirable in this area (Metro DC) with the explosion of every phase of hospitality from restaurants to brewing to distilleries to vineyards to hotels. With hospitality, there’s really no one, singular career path – it is open ended, with someone entering the industry having more control over their own career path than ever before just by working hard, being reliable and expanding their skill sets.

(SS): What are the biggest challenges to ensuring students are career-ready for the hospitality industry?

(MC): Many of the younger managers we hire are challenged with the skills it takes to lead a team and understanding the financial metrics required to help run a small business. When they enter formal studies for hospitality, they may not get the training for the soft skills needed to manage and lead, or the hard skills such as accounting basics. With management, especially, we rely on a slew of skills to ensure our consumers are getting the best service possible. That includes hospitality, of course, but it also includes knowing how to motivate your team, the financial understanding to make decisions on behalf of the restaurant, bar, etc.

(SS): Do you have any advice for hospitality organizations that are looking to grow or strengthen their workforce?

(MC): Hire the smartest people who have the flexibility to grow and adapt their skill sets, and to understand what skills are needed in which areas or positions. If you know that, you can be more targeted in your recruiting or training.

(SS): What are the skills you look for most?

(MC): Intelligent and purpose-driven people. Of all the successful hires we’ve had, we’ve identified that these two traits translate into someone who can learn on the job, increase their knowledge base and skill set, and who are motivated to want to climb the ladder, so to speak. We’re able to help them advance by outlining a clear plan of where we see their skill sets taking them within our group and talking with them about how they think they can get there. Again, it comes back to flexibility of our workers being able to grow and adapt their skill sets.

(SS): What challenges do you experience in hiring workforce?

(MC): Finding great people is a challenge. The market can seem flooded with people looking for jobs, it can be a challenge to identify which of those people actually have the skills we need.

(SS): What challenges do you experience in retaining your workforce?

(MC): Like every industry, growing and challenging the best and brightest workers in order to keep them engaged.

(SS): What role do you see educators/trainers playing in producing the ideal workforce?

(MC): Ultimately, we all become educators, trainers and coaches at work, teaching and mentoring our staff. The ideal workforce would be made up of great leaders with integrated leadership training between all levels of the workforce. As I mentioned, some of our managers struggle with financial metrics. Educators should play a role in all industries – not just hospitality – by incorporating ways to create a more financially astute student base. Those students, no matter high school or college educated, may very well end up working in hospitality. Having tactical applications of financial metrics could help them immensely. That’s just one example.

(SS): One challenge we hear is that there aren’t career promotion opportunities in hospitality, do you agree?

(MC): The hospitality space is growing exponentially as the world moves faster and people get busier. Great and growing companies will always have career promotion opportunities. Hospitality makes up a large percentage of the American workforce, and as it continues to grow, it will need more managers, leaders, etc. My own story is a great example – I went from working at that little pizza restaurant while on breaks from school and transitioned to managing it.

(SS): Hospitality is experiencing growth in the DC area, why do you think that is?

(MC): DC has always been fertile ground for hospitality growth as the nation’s capital. Not only do we have a growing population, especially with more private sectors coming to the region, we have a steady stream of tourism from year to year. To me, the growth of hospitality took a little longer than expected, but DC is mentioned with the likes of New York and San Francisco. That’s pretty incredible.