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Why a Major Hotel Chain Is Offering Apprenticeships

Filling specialized roles like that of executive chef isn’t easy, even for Hilton.

The Beverly Hilton's Executive Chef Alberico Nunziata at the Golden Globe Awards Menu Preview on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

This is the final article in a three-part series about apprenticeship in the United States. Read the previous articles here and here.

For most Americans, the word “apprenticeship” summons images of a master carpenter or welder imparting his trade to a young hopeful. But the reality of apprenticeship is changing. As the service economy continues to grow and diversify, employers are scrambling for workers with just the right skills. More of them are seeing the value of the old-school apprenticeship, bringing it into fields where it never formally existed before.

Tanner Saur, 22, turned down jobs at three other global hotel chains to be in the first cohort of apprentices at Hilton Worldwide, in a program that begins this month.

Saur—who has a master’s degree in hospitality management from Pennsylvania State University—will spend the next six months at Hilton’s Embassy Suites Convention Center in Washington, D.C., being paid to learn every aspect of the business: housekeeping, security, engineering, food and beverage, accounting, front office, and human resources. “I want to develop more as a leader and decision maker,” Saur says of his decision. Twenty-nine other recent college graduates will participate in the first phase of the program, training at Hilton properties around the United States.

Apprentices will compete a six-week rotation through all hotel departments. After that, each will choose a department to focus on for the next 16 weeks. (Saur plans to focus on housekeeping.) For their final project, apprentices will make a presentation to Hilton’s executive committee. At completion, they’ll receive a Management Development Program Certificate, which is a recognized credential across the industry, not just at Hilton.

“At the end of six months, we will work with each to help them decide their strongest area of interest, and then we will offer them a starting manager or supervisor job,” says Kimo Kippen, vice president of Hilton’s Global Workforce Initiative. In June, another 45 graduates will begin the same program for a total of 75 students this year. “Our goal is to have 370 students complete this apprenticeship program over the next five years,” Kippen says.

One World Trade Center and 7 World Trade Center reflected in the facade of the Millennium Hilton in New York City (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Hilton is one of several employers to receive funding from the Department of Labor to increase the number of registered apprenticeships in high-growth industries including hospitality, healthcare, energy, transportation, and logistics. Last year, DOL announced it would provide $60 million to states and $30 million to businesses and partnerships to expand the number of U.S. apprenticeships. The agency awarded a $250,000 contract to Hilton. The funds can be used to design the program and train the people who will be providing hands-on instruction, Kippen says. Hilton was the only hotel group to apply for funding.

Hilton’s registered apprenticeship is based on an in-house management development program that’s been running since 2012. There were more than 600 applicants for the 75 apprentice slots. Finding the right talent isn’t always easy, Kippen says, especially when specialized skills are needed. “There are many jobs that are difficult to fill,” he says, including executive chef and revenue management positions.

Because there is a perception that apprenticeships are limited to building trades and manufacturing, it’s important to have major employers in other industries such as Hilton embracing the model, says Deborah Kobes of Jobs for the Future, a labor policy nonprofit. Companies adapting their existing training programs makes sense, she says. Plus, “it shows that registered apprenticeship programs apply to more employers than may realize it.”

The American mindset about service-economy jobs needs to play catch-up, says Kippen. Although the country has moved from a manufacturing-based economy to a service economy, career paths within the service sector have remained overlooked. “We’re fortunate in our industry that with many of our jobs, there is little to no skill required [initially] and you can go from entry level to a senior leader or senior executive,” he says. Kippen himself started out as a bus boy and rose to become a senior executive.

Kippen hopes that DOL recognition will allow Hilton to grow its apprenticeship program, bolster its other training and development options, and help the company work with local organizations to create programs for hiring the economically disadvantaged and refugees.

Short-term benefits of DOL recognition for companies include tax credits and access to on-the-job training funds, says Kobes. But it’s especially important to their potential partners—in Hilton’s case, colleges and universities—who refer would-be apprentices. They want to know that apprentices will end up with a recognized, transportable credential that they can take to another employer. Then apprentices “aren’t just better positioned for [one employer], but for the industry in general,” Kobes says.

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