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 Boston Workforce Development Program
Puts Homeless to Work in Hotels 
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By Elizabeth Johnson, American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute, August 2006

Boston’s growing hotel industry has a new source for qualified line-level workers, thanks to the collaborative efforts of a state hotel association, a community service agency, and area hotels. The “At Your Service” program is training formerly homeless and other economically disadvantaged clients to become successful hotel employees at leading Boston properties that include the Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont Copley Plaza, and the Bulfinch Hotel. 

The program, which recently completed its first year, grew out of a meeting between representatives of the Massachusetts Lodging Association Education Foundation, Inc. and Community Work Services during a workshop on workforce training funding. 

“We talked, and it seemed like the perfect match,” said Deborah Andrews, executive director of the foundation. “I knew we needed a vehicle for offering entry-level training for hotels, and CWS offered high-quality training programs for the homeless and people with disabilities.  I knew they would be a wonderful partner.” 

Andrews met with general managers and human resources personnel from Boston-area hotels to learn more about their needs for line-level workers and to solicit their participation in developing a program that would meet their requirements as well as meeting the needs of those being trained. 

The MLA Education Foundation Inc. (Foundation) and Community Work Services also consulted with Jeff Gerber, director of workforce development for the American Hotel & Lodging Association Educational Institute, to develop the “At Your Service” program.  The program uses EI’s Skills, Tasks, and Results Training (START) workforce development curriculum, which offers training and certification for 12 line-level hotel positions. 

START, which began in October 2003, is used by Job Corps, Goodwill Industries, the Urban League, and other community and faith-based organizations in 21 states and the District of Columbia to help their clients prepare for long-term careers leading to self-sufficiency.  

“The START curriculum is very concise and includes preparation for many different positions, which enables us to offer our clients a choice of jobs they may be interested in,” explained Serena Powell, executive director of Community Work Services. “We represent people with a diverse set of challenges and barriers.  Some are homeless and college educated, while others are homeless and learning disabled. START offers a range of jobs to meet different ability levels.” 

Powell added that the program’s structure, testing component, and AH&LA credential were other important considerations. 

“It was an easy sell to the hotels—we got a resounding ‘Yes!’ when we presented the program to them,” she said. Participating properties include the Bulfinch Hotel, Hampton Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Express, Park Plaza, Ritz Carlton, Royal Sonesta, Shawmut Inn, Fairmont Copley Plaza, and the Westin. 

Because local hotel executives serve on the program’s advisory committee, they have a vested interest in the program’s success.  General managers come in and talk to classes about careers in the lodging industry, about their properties’ corporate culture and their expectations for employees, and about how their hotels function. They give hotel tours to students, provide job shadowing opportunities, and even act as on-site “labs” for students’ practical training. 

“The hotels have been very generous and involved,” said Powell.  “For instance, the Bulfinch Hotel, which is literally at our back door, lets us bring students over to clean their rooms for practice and to use their laundry facilities.” 

Len Hartwell, general manager of the Bulfinch, noted that his hotel’s participation benefits the property as much as it does the students in the At Your Service program. 

“We at the Bulfinch Hotel are committed to working with At Your Service to ensure a solidly-based community relationship that will be mutually beneficial to all parties involved,” he said. “We have employed a couple of people who have graduated from the program and they have been very well prepared for the job.” 

At Your Service is an eight-week program that offers intensive skills training in areas such as housekeeping, front desk, reservations, bell services, maintenance, restaurant server, banquet employee, and bus person. In additional to classroom instruction, CWS provides support services including case management, job readiness training, mentoring, job placement, and follow-up services for up to a year after job placement. 

The program has a rolling admission; students can begin at any point in the program and continue until they have completed the curriculum. 

“Our clients are struggling with a lot of barriers; the day they walk through the door is the day they are ready to receive services. We want to keep their momentum going, so we don’t want them to have to wait until we start another session,” Powell explained. She added that CWS helps its clients to overcome other barriers by assisting with transportation costs and working with the welfare department to pay for childcare expenses while participants are in the training program. 

As clients are ready to graduate, CWS works closely with area hotels to carefully match prospective employees with appropriate job placements.  Powell and her staff take the time to learn about each property’s culture so that the candidates they present are a good fit for the hotel. 

S. Nicholas Kriketos II, director of guest services at the Ritz-Carlton, called the At Your Service graduates hired by the hotel “true service professionals.” 

“The ladies and gentlemen we have selected from Community Work Services have met and exceeded all of our expectations,” he said. 

“Finding quality ladies and gentlemen to work for our company is a challenge, but the level of people that CWS has sent us has been incredible. The staff at CWS truly understands the Ritz-Carlton’s service culture and has gone above and beyond the call of duty when finding candidates to fill positions.” 

Marta Reus, assistant human resources director at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, stated that the three At Your Service graduates hired by the hotel have been excellent additions to the staff. 

“They are aware of the industry and our expectations,” she said. “They are well prepared for a job with us. They understand the service aspect of hospitality and have a good feel for the atmosphere and service level we provide.” 

She added that the new employees come to the hotel with knowledge of the hospitality business and its demands.  Even more than the technical knowledge of a particular position, the understanding of the demands of hospitality is a key factor in the success of At Your Service graduates as hotel employees. 

Andrea Mitsch, benefits manager at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, noted that one of the biggest barriers to successful employment in the hospitality industry is finding employees who understand that hospitality is 24/7, and not a 9-to-5 job. She explained that the At Your Service program stresses that idea constantly. Students learn that working in hospitality can mean days, nights, weekends, and holidays. 
 “It’s definitely an asset to employers to hire someone who already ‘gets it’ and knows what’s involved in the job,” said Mitsch.  “In fact, it benefits both the hotel and the employee. They know right from the start what they can expect.”

Deborah Andrews is proud of what the Foundation has accomplished in its partnership with Community Work Services. She spoke movingly of the success of the At Your Service program and its graduates. 

“We have people working at hotels all over the city.  One woman had been working two fast-food jobs. After completing the program, she got a full-time job at the Radisson, had benefits for the first time, and was making $6,000 a year more than she did from her other two jobs combined,” said Andrews. 

“These are employees that we want to keep,” she added. “They are dedicated and they have made a commitment to the lodging industry.  You have to give them credit for the hard work they’ve done.  These are people who have the potential to become some of the best employees.” 

Andrews said workforce development programs like At Your Service benefit hotels by providing them with highly-skilled, cross-trained, entry-level employees, while reducing costs associated with recruitment, upfront training, and employee turnover. 

“Hotels are going to save $1,000 to $3,000 in training per employee,” she stated. “They are going to be hiring people who have been through a quality Educational Institute program that is internationally recognized. They are going to have input into the training of their future employees. And they will be offering jobs to people who are ready to work and who want to succeed.  Everyone wins.” 

EI’s Jeff Gerber, who has helped to establish more than 65 workforce development programs using the START curriculum, had nothing but praise for the At Your Service program. 

“I feel the Community Work Services START program could be a model for other agencies throughout the country that work with homeless populations,” he said. “They have built excellent partnerships with industry, match the right students with the program, do an outstanding job of instructing the course, and most importantly, place the graduates into good jobs.”  

Based on the success of the Boston program, Andrews hopes to introduce the concept into other areas of the state, such as Springfield.  She also encouraged other state hotel associations to look into partnerships with community training organizations and workforce development programs. 

“This is something our industry needs,” she said. “We just have to work together to make it happen.”

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Contact:

Jeff Gerber
Director of Workforce Development
407-999-8103
jgerber@ahla.com

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Also See: Marriott’s Company Wide Commitment to Helping Others Gaining Momentum / May 2000
Baymont Inns & Suites and Marcus Hotels and Resorts to Provide Free Laundry Services and Linens for Homeless / June 2002


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