Starwood, Children International Fight Poverty With Job Training

GLOBAL REPORT—Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ global citizenship arm, The Starwood Foundation, in partnership with Children International, sets out to bridge the gap between underdeveloped talent in economically depressed areas and the growing demand for hospitality personnel through a workforce readiness program.

Piloted in Guatemala and Ecuador, the joint humanitarian effort tackles these issues with a one-two punch: Enable youth to work their way out of poverty with on-the-job training in hospitality, while delivering superior talent for positions within the industry.

“We saw enormously high unemployment rates among youth in developing nations, and we knew hospitality could bring the ability for advancement. The goal of the program is to ensure youth are adequately equipped, and we have hiring needs so we can draw from this pipeline as well,” said Kristin Meyer, VP, Starwood Foundation and associate director of community partnerships, global citizenship. “This initiative is part of a global workplace readiness program and we have multiple partners through the world. There are many people who work for our charitable partners and our internal associates who dedicate time to ensuring young people have the support they need to be a success.”

A shared focus on job readiness and the promotion of economic growth in the communities in which their organizations reside provided the basis for introductory meetings on how they could work together to achieve common goals.

“We had a series of discussions with key stakeholders to get to know each other as organizations to ensure there was a level of compatibility and understanding of what each group brings to the table,” said Tom Owens, director of workforce development for Children International, a nonprofit dedicated to ending poverty. “Starwood works with a number of organizations in a number of locations domestically and around the globe, so it’s been a good way for each organization to benefit from the experience and expertise of one another. Once familiar, we started talking about creating the pilot project, the skills that would be required and how to make the best impact. That’s how we came up with the plan for Ecuador.”

As a starting point for the pilot program, Ecuador and Guatemala proved to be good locales for Starwood and Children International, as both sides have operations there.

“We share a common geography and working relationships with our offices, so it was just a matter of explaining the basis for the partnership; then explaining the roles and responsibilities to our partners on the ground, and how they could contribute and benefit as a result,” said Owens.

Children International had teams on the ground working directly with the youth at Starwood properties to make sure they were learning what they were passionate about, obtaining the necessary skills and refining what jobs they’d like to pursue, according to Meyer.

One of the trainees in Guayaquil, Ecuador, a young man named Frank, stood out from the pack and is described as embodying the success of the program.

“Frank was enthusiastic about what he learned, and he’s looking forward to applying it in the workplace. This is someone who takes his commitment very seriously and understands the role of working in a hotel,” said Owens. “We pay a lot of attention to that. We want to make sure if we’re investing resources in training young people that they are fully committed, follow through and will later enter the workforce.”

“We’ve been impressed with Children International and their ability to address the holistic needs of young people. The program actively places youth into roles post-training and offers support through the process, such as soft-skills training and the support continues after employment to ensure they are retaining those jobs,” said Meyer. “We had so many students who really progressed dramatically, and the self-confidence they exhibits was tremendous.”

Future plans will include growing the pilot project in these two countries for another year and then creating a methodology that documents the experience to be used as a resource for hotels seeking to replicate the program in other countries, according to Owens.

“We plan to have a basis of experience in Ecuador and Guatemala to show other hotels and countries how this works. There are benefits every participating hotel derives and we can show specifically how to put that together,” said Owens. “100% of the youth that enter the training program have completed the program and more than half are working jobs in their respective cities. We feel really good about that and many more will get placed in jobs as well.”

—Corris Little