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Starwood's Four Waikiki Hotels Offer Employees Educational Program
Geared to Nuture and Expand Existing Staff's Range and Skills

By Robbie Dingeman, The Honolulu AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 14, 2009--A development program at Starwood's four Waikiki hotels taps talent already working within the resort company by exposing a group of employees for six months to a variety of new tasks and jobs.

The latest class graduated 15 people this month with diverse jobs, skills and life experience. While the number is small, the concept represents one facet of dealing with Hawai'i's "brain drain" problem -- bright local residents leaving the state to get core experience someplace else.

And employers sometimes struggle to attract residents to a career better known for entry-level service jobs than life paths.

The Associate Development Program works to develop and match skills to people already on the payroll -- nurturing managers who are knowledgeable and rooted in the community. Finding, training and keeping employees remains a challenge for the state's No. 1 industry, which employs more than 95,000 people in hotels and food service statewide, according to government analysts.

Employment coordinator Reyna Santiago won from the managers and mentors the award for "most living the brand."

Santiago is part of a team of three who helps people who are applying for jobs at Starwood. She enjoys meeting a lot of people and helping to figure out "where they would fit" within a hotel.

Santiago, 30, was born and raised in Kalihi Valley, and had worked in a variety of jobs before starting with Starwood two years ago.

She had taught hula and crafts aboard the M.S. Patriot cruise ship until the company went bankrupt in 2001, then checked out different career paths.

"I worked at a preschool, in retail, my job just prior to this was in a law firm before joining the hotel," she said.

"That's when I realized that this is the industry where I needed to be," she said.

After learning different aspects of various resort jobs, she sees a future as a manager in human resources.

The Royal Hawaiian hotel general manager Kelly Hoen, a Kailua native who became the historic resort's first female GM, worked her way up from within the industry.

Her first hotel job was checking in guests at the front desk at the Ilikai Hotel. She's a believer in learning and promoting from within your community to create strong leaders.

"People who were raised here, or have a lot of exposure to what's right and what's pono and how we need to work within our host culture," she said.

"To me, it's a really great way to not have to send people away," Hoen said.

Executive assistant Noelani Harris won two awards. From the managers and mentors, she was selected as "most driven."

And the 14 other graduates surprised her by voting her "most likely to be my future boss."

After 15 years with Starwood, Harris felt she was ready to learn some other skills that took her throughout the four Waikiki resorts and beyond the executive offices of the Princess Kaiulani Hotel, where she works alongside the general manager.

Starwood also is the management company for The Royal Hawaiian hotel; the Sheraton Waikiki; and the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort.

Harris, 42, went from focusing on the big pictures to learning a lot of the details. She especially enjoyed the part of the training that took them to each area to analyze, find flaws and recommend how to make things more efficient.

"I got to see how everything comes together," she said.

Harris entered the hotel business after her corporate communications job with for BHP Petroleum was eliminated after the Gulf War, 15 years ago.

Christine Hawkins, Starwood Hawai'i's director of employment, said the program provide hands-on learning opportunities to promote the growth and development of the business "with the talented people already working there."

Of 75 graduates over the past five years, Hawkins said, 20 are in management here, while some have moved to other states or companies.

Gentry Goslin, 20, was a working a student job at Honolulu Community College when the hotel job postings came in and she decided to apply herself.

Originally from Kahului, Maui, Goslin got a job as a valet runner at the Moana Surfrider about 18 months ago. She took off a semester from her college studies to focus on the development program.

She'll return to school at Kapi'olani Community College in January, now focusing on more skills that can help her at work.

She's not yet sure of her exact career path but "I know I want to stay within the hotel industry."

Hawkins said she's expecting the program to expand to 25 people in the next session, which begins March 1st with an application deadline of Feb. 1.

"We have an amazing pool of talent," she said.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at


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