Training programs require planning, mission

Training programs require planning, mission

Jeff Higley

NATIONAL REPORT–Creating a training program at a hotel company isn’t an easy process. Hotel-ownership companies with multiple brands must walk a fine line when creating their own training programs while adhering to the standards of the brands in its portfolio.

John Davies, director of training and development for Sage Hospitality, said the company is in the early stages of developing a leadership training program that focuses on balancing and leveraging its training programs with the brands’ programs.

“We want to create a Sage ID and a brand ID,” Davis said. “We’re developing material that’s strong enough and broad enough in general leadership areas that encompasses what we’re trying to accomplish and what the brands try to accomplish.

“It does get tricky,” Davies said. “For some of the material, I put out three or four different versions that reflect the training requirements of the different brands that we have.”

Companies also have to consider what technological advances they want to incorporate into their training program. Wyndham International is a big user of technology when it comes to training.

“A lot of what we do has been converted to e-learning opportunities,” said Steve Schuller, Wyndham’s v.p. of organization development & education. “There are 250 courses that we offer online, and all of our [property-management system] training is done online.”

Schuller said Wyndham’s initial return on investment for an e-learning component is 329 percent, and the company limits its e-learning courses to no more than 1.5 hours per session so employees don’t lose their focus.

“Now we’re leveraging that tool to do other opportunities,” Schuller said.

E-learning is becoming more of a tool in the training department, according to Davies.

“The trend is that there is more Webcasting,” Davies said. “It’s more cost-effective because it removes the boundaries of distance and time.”

But that doesn’t mean everything in the training department can be done electronically.

“PMS training is such a natural fit, but there are some things that you can never do online,” Schuller said. “How to make a bed or service a guestroom or learn how to use a dishwashing machine can’t be taught online.”

Organization counts

John Q. Hammons Hotels introduced a training program geared toward improving sales performances, and Scott Tarwater, v.p. of sales and marketing, said the fundamental component of a training program is organization.

“The most important thing is how to prioritize your day,” he said.

One of the results of the program is that salespeople now have one hour per day that is completely free of distractions in which they focus solely on contacting a list of accounts not currently booking business with the hotel where they work.

“We have a service culture training that begins at the top with John Q. Hammons,” Tarwater said. “Mr. Hammons is a big believer in guest satisfaction and guest services.”

Creating a culture goes hand-in-hand with creating a training program, said Steve Whiteside, v.p. of hotel operations for Caesars Atlantic City (N.J.) Hotel and Casino. That includes creating a program that gives employees the skills to advance to another job.

“There are so many different pieces at a hotel,” Whiteside said. “There has become a more consistent ladder.”

Whiteside said that when he worked for Westin in the 1980s, the company used a “ready list” for employees who were ready to go to the next level.

“It’s called succession planning now, and having a training program that addresses that is integral to long-term success,” Whiteside said.

There are about 4,000 employees at the Atlantic City Caesars property.

Whiteside’s property has a training program that is based on “job bundles”–a series of jobs that are grouped together so all nonunion employees can be cross-trained in all of the tasks.

“The more skills they have, the more opportunity for pay increases they have,” Whiteside said.

What complicates matters for hotels at casinos is that there are licensing issues for certain jobs–any employee that deals with complimentary items for guests, including reservations agents, must be certified by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission.

After acquiring various skills in the cross-training program, the next level for employees is “hotel associate.” Employees at this level embark on a two-year management trainee program.

The final level is a hotel manager position. There are seven of these positions at the hotel.

Schuller said the theory of training hasn’t changed much over time, but the execution has.

“We’re much more thoughtful in the planning processes,” Schuller said. “But we continue to focus on training for customer service as the biggest and most important thing that we do.”

jhigley@advanstar.com

COPYRIGHT 2004 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

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