Concord Hospitality Partners with AHLA to Train ‘Opportunity Youth’

NATIONAL REPORT—Youth are in need. An estimated six million people between the ages of 16-24 are considered “opportunity youth,” meaning they are out of work and unemployed.

Concord Hospitality partnered with the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) on a national program to solve this problem by offering training and job opportunities within the hospitality industry to these youths.

“What better way to find a life-long career than in the hotel sector,” said Shelly Weir, SVP of career development at American Hotel & Lodging Education Foundation (AHLAF). “We were thinking of how we can connect them to jobs in our sector and our industry is always looking for great talent. On any given day, 600,000 jobs openings and how can we bring those two worlds together to solve the needs and set youth up for long-term success in our industry.”

Concord Hospitality has been longtime partners with AHLA, sitting on committees and holding a position on the board. Debra Punke, SVP of human capital and communications at Concord Hospitality, noted that securing talent has been a challenge and this partnership has been a boon for boosting their employment roster.

“You don’t need a college education; you need a servant’s heart,” she said. “We can teach you everything else. With this program, they’re constantly working to help us find people to train and hire. We’re also working with community based organizations. We have three hotels in Washington, DC and two hotels in neighboring communities. Our human resources person takes the lead and interfaces with AHLA and community organizations to put it all to work. It’s been great for us.”

With a strong foundation, Weir believes the program has the ability to go national, helping more and more young people.

“From a national perspective, our goal is to be able to scale this nationwide—that is the bottomline,” she said.

“We’ll be right there to receive them,” said Punke.

Weir added, “We want to offer a solution for these youth and hoteliers in as many metro areas as possible, and we’re looking to put additional grant funding hopefully soon. Our hotels need folks in all areas and there are youth in all 50 states. If we can do our part, that is the ultimate goal.”

Punke recently went to Washington to meet with three of the four associates working in Concord Hospitality properties, as well as the organizations that have supplied the candidates. Speaking about the company’s relationship with community organizations, Punke said, “They were very open to our feedback on what they’re teaching in terms of the curriculum and how we can help enhance their program. It’s great having students come to the hotels and come in and tour the hotel, just to see all segments of the operation and they’re open to our feedback—what we need in terms of skill set and emotional intelligence.”

The community organizations are covering career know-how such as how to dress for success and deliver exceptional customer service.

“When talking to the youth, it’s interesting to hear their experience,” Punke said. “One came to us from Covenant House and he was homeless. They provided him with a meal, toiletry kit and a place to stay. He eagerly went into the program and it was something he felt he could do and he came to work in our hotel. He said, ‘Someday, I want to be a GM.’”

Emani Wilson, a recent graduate of the program and now employed full-time as a front desk agent at Concord Hospitality’s Hyatt House Washington DC/The Wharf, shared her experience.

“I not only obtained full time employment, but also a full support from everyone who contributed to participation in the training program,” Wilson said. “I felt fully prepared and know that I am in the right place.”

The program has delivered positives for everyone involved. “It’s a great program,” Punke said. “Looking on program side and hearing from the students, the results are a win-win. We’re thrilled to be early adopters and look forward to getting more students. There are lots of competing hotels who want to be part of it.”

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