English language programs aid workers, improve guest relations

BOSTON—Promoting professional growth opportunities to employees isn’t anything new, especially to the hospitality industry. Many skills acquired through these educational programs are transferable from one entity to another. Oftentimes, they can also be applied to a worker’s personal life, as is the case with literacy.

Committed to adult education and workforce development, the 428-room Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center here partnered with World Education Inc. to establish the “English for Seaport Team Members” initiative, which aims to educate employees seeking literacy development; in other words, the program welcomes individuals whose native language isn’t English. To lighten the burden on employees, hotel management works in collaboration with World Education to establish time for staff to attend weekly classes. Time off is paid out, and schedules are adjusted accordingly so work doesn’t conflict with the classroom.

“The benefits for our team members, both personally and professionally, far outweigh the amount ‘spent’ for them to attend,” said Jim Carmody, VP & GM of Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, in an interview with Hotel Business. “The happier and more confident our team members are, particularly in regard to their English speaking skills, translates into exceptional services to our guests, which equals a fabulous return on investment.”

The partnership between World Education and the hotel began with an email in November 2014. Sara Sullivan, the hotel’s resource coordinator, received an email from a gentleman named Carey Reid who, at the time, represented the interests of the educational consultant organization’s English as a Second Language program. “Intrigued and seeing the need for a program like this among the team members, she sought approval from higher management and was given the go-ahead to see what could become of the program,” said Carmody. “This was the start of a great relationship between our two companies.” The email promised no cost to the property.

“World Education improves the quality of life through education for a half-million children and adults in 22 countries, including the United States, through 100 distinct projects,” said Luanne Teller, director of workplace education programs at World Education. “In addition to our global efforts, we are equally committed to making a positive impact locally, including our own Seaport neighborhood in Boston. When we approached area hotels, the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center team responded with the vision and readiness to put thought into action.”

otel workers are encouraged to attend classes to improve English language skills.

To gauge employee interest in the program, the hotel made inquiries within various departments and “received a great response,” said Carmody, noting Seaport’s commitment to the continuous improvement of its employees by striving to “provide the resources for our team members to better their lives, whether it be helping them expand their language skills or teaching them how to provide better customer service.”

Established by both organizations at the beginning of 2015, a planning team, made up of people from both parties, applied for a Workplace Education Planning Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Secondary and Elementary Education/Adult and Community Learning Services in the amount of $5,000. The purpose of the joint request to the state—cover the time needed to develop and design the program’s classes. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts awarded the program with the grant in July 2015.

World Education’s project team met with Seaport’s human resources department immediately upon receiving the funding to launch a workplace needs analysis. The educational consultant’s staff took the lead on drafting detailed questionnaires for employees and supervisors, as well as revising and translating recruitment flyers into two different languages: Spanish and Bosnian, the primary first languages of potential students of the program.

“To gain as much firsthand information as possible, we invested a significant amount of time conducting as many one-on-one interviews with a broad range of employees and supervisors,” Carmody said, adding that the combined team interviewed more than 30 employees and nearly nine supervisors/managers at Seaport’s HR office.

Additional steps were taken to gather perspectives in the field by visiting various departments, including housekeeping, parking, convention services and banquet. “We took all of this information and applied for a grant to now fund the actual program itself, which would cover the cost of instruction, class materials and administration,” he said. The state awarded $35,000 to the project, and classes began in January 2016.

Lasting from January 2016 until June 2016, the team broke the pilot class into two levels: beginner and intermediate. There were 10 students in Level 1 and 12 students in Level 2. The first full school year of classes began in August 2016 (with nine Level 1 students and 11 Level 2 students); classes fully resumed in January 2017 after a short break in December 2016, a decision made as a result of business levels.

“Current students had the choice to opt out of the classes after the December break, although continuing was encouraged; new students were welcome to join this January,” said Carmody. “All but one student has agreed to continue with classes (this individual is retiring from the company). Six new team members joined in January and have been tested to determine their class level. Every student is a team member of the hotel.”

World Education’s door is open to developing partnerships with other hotels. “Workplace education programs that build employees’ skills are a smart investment that has a positive impact on hotel’s operations,” said Teller. The organization welcomes the opportunity to explore the range of available options to address the needs of hotels.”

But World Education also embraces diverse project selections. “In addition to working with hotels, World Education has the capacity to contextualize curriculum for any workplace,” she said. “As an example, we have just begun partnering with a local culinary and catering business to provide workplace English classes that focus on food handling, prep and safety for the staff who are non-native English speakers,” Teller said.

The Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center also received the World Education Award from its partner for the property’s efforts to educate its workforce. Teller presented the award to Carmody at a ceremony held at TripAdvisor headquarters in Needham, MA. HB

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