Employers in Staffordshire have been urged to help improve the skills of the county's leisure and hospitality workforce if the area is to make the most of its booming tourism market.
The warning from the Staffordshire Learning and Skills Council comes on the back of work to establish a Stafford-shire Destination Management Partnership and figures which reveal the county's tourism industry generates £685 million a year and employs 35,200 people, some 8.5 per cent of the working population.
Growth in the sector is set to be boosted even further with new hotel developments planned in Staffordshire and the sustained popularity and development of the Wedgwood Visitor Centre, Drayton Manor Park and Shugborough Hall.
The £100 million development of Trentham Gardens, currently the largest tourism development project in the UK, is also going from strength to strength.
"There are massive opportunities in this sector, which will require a large and highly skilled pool of workers readily available to ensure that demand is met," said Nicky Grey of Staffordshire LSC.
She added: "With this in mind, we have created a new Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure Employer Taskforce that will be solely responsible for identifying learning trends and ensuring that provision meets existing and future demand of employers."
More than 14 businesses have already signed up to the forum, including the UK's largest theme park in Alton Towers, Waterworld, the Moat House at Acton Trussell and Amerton Farm.
These companies will be supported in the group by a number of partners, including Connexions, the LSC, Jobcentre Plus, the Regional Centre for Tourism, business support and further education providers.
"We've got a really dynamic and diverse taskforce now up and running, which will reflect every imaginable trend, opportunity and challenge the sector is currently going through," added Nicky.
A number of working theme groups have already been introduced to tackle the key issues of attracting future talent and influencing the curriculum and training delivery, so that learning reflects what is needed in a working environment.
Mark Lewis, chairman of the taskforce and general manager of the Moat House at Acton Trussell, said: "One of the key challenges for all employers is changing the image of the sector and the need to promote a variety of progression routes so that people don't automatically think a job is just a stop gap between courses or okay for a few part time hours."
He added: "There are some fantastic career opportunities in tourism, leisure and hospitality and it is this message that we need to get across to young people entering employment and individuals who are looking for a change in vocation."
Nicky concluded: "Reaction from employers has been fantastic and we are continually looking to recruit new members to bring their expertise and experiences to the taskforce."