Irina Erickson looked at home serving up mulligatawny at the final lunch at HospitalityMaine’s annual summit at Sugarloaf in early November.

Dressed in a black tunic, she chatted and served up cups of soup with the comfort of a food service industry veteran.

But she and four other servers at the Nov. 5 lunch were also serving a bigger purpose that day. They are inmates at the Women’s Re-entry Center in Windham and Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston.

At the lunch, HospitalityMaine and the Maine Department of Corrections announced a ground-breaking apprentice partnership, the first time an industry organization in the state has partnered on such a program, officials say.

The state’s hospitality industry employed more than 79,000 in full and part-time jobs in 2018, according to a recent HospitalityMaine study. There’s no available figure on how many more jobs went unfilled, but it’s in the thousands, says Steve Hewins, CEO of HospitalityMaine, which represents 1,000 members in the restaurant and lodging business

The industry is in a workforce crisis.

“We have to have creative ways to tackle that,” Hewins says.

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