Apprentice program helps grow talented, certified staff

Though the industry may be in recovery, the tumultuous upsets to the labor pool have caused lost institutional knowledge, holes in succession and significant skill gaps in new people who have not “come up” through the industry. Training can help upskill with a targeted, creative approach.

At Sonesta International Hotels Corp., we grew from 1,000 to 8,000+ employees in less than two years. We needed a robust and impactful training program to fuel our rapid growth and build our bench strength. We partnered with the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute and the AHLA Foundation to leverage their Lodging Manager Apprenticeship program. Our first “class” focused on a diverse group of assistant general managers. 

So far, we have a 91 percent retention rate of the program’s graduates. Here’s how an apprentice-style process works:

  • Apprentice and mentor selection: This is what makes the program tick. Apprentices are identified, nominated and asked to apply. They are selected based on performance, commitment and attitude. They are then paired with an experienced mentor. Commitment to the program must come from the top—consider the COO and all VPs being mentors in the program.
  • Structured administration: The training team holds virtual meetings to review program details, progress, resources and expectations. “Leadership speaker series” calls give apprentices direct access to executive leadership. 
  • Self-paced online lessons: Apprentices complete online courses that are competency-based, which allows for self-pacing based on skill. 
  • On-the-job training: Apprentices receive training from their experienced mentor on 137 skills in six areas. A checklist of skills is signed off on throughout the program.
  • Incentives and recognition: Use a learning management system to house virtual checklists and allow for badges and milestone tracking. Hold a “graduation,” where graduates receive incentives such as branded gifts and attend a ceremony at corporate headquarters. 
  • Return on investment: At Sonesta, 20 apprentices have graduated in less than nine months with a 91 percent retention rate. They are now more committed to their career path at the company. Of those 20, eight have already been promoted, allowing us to fill a manager role that can cost tens of thousands of dollars due to turnover. Several graduates are now mentors to new apprentices, creating a self-perpetuating program.

Unlike other employers, the personal development experiences in lodging companies are unparalleled. Adding a structured program such as this reinforces to your staff why it’s great to work for (and stay with) you.

Kate Stiteler is a senior training manager for Sonesta International Hotels Corp.