2022 December-January Analysis Featured

USAID hospitality skills training program graduates first cohort

The hospitality skills training program being implemented by AmCham and Georgia’s internationally branded hotels graduated its first cohort of 42 participants in a ceremony held at the Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi on November 10.

The program, which is supported by the USAID Economic Security Program, welcomed the cohort in early June for a five-month traineeship offering more than 800 hours of on-the-job instruction in hospitality basics, housekeeping, food and beverage service, human resources, health and safety, and sales and PR.

Program participants speak about their experience with USAID Economic Security Program Chief of Party Mark McCord at their graduation ceremony

At the graduation event, participants received certificates of completion, and Senior Private Sector Engagement Advisor for USAID/Georgia Beverly Hoover noted the significance of the program for Georgia’s tourism sector as it emerges from the pandemic. “This joint partnership is especially important and timely today, as this effort has added qualified personnel to the tourism sector who will contribute greatly to the development of both the hospitality industry and the country’s economy,” Hoover said.

AmCham Vice President and Senior Executive Vice President of GMT Group Irakli Baidashvili also commented on the wider importance of the program: “This is not only a success story in a business sense, but also in a human sense. Looking at the participants here today, it is evident that they got to experience how great a career in hospitality can be.”

And while the training program was created as a part of a wider effort to introduce international standards of service to the hospitality sector and revitalize the industry’s workforce as it emerges from the pandemic, it also aims to change perceptions around careers in the hospitality sector.

Exploring a career in hospitality

As part of the skills training program, participants were offered the opportunity to explore the various career options within the operational and administrative sides of hotel management. For many of the participants, some of whom had previously studied tourism or hospitality in university, this program offered their first practical experience in a hotel.

Khvicha Lokishvili and Ano Kilasonia train in the Radisson Blu Iveria_s sales department

Eva Kotilaidze, who trained at GMT’s Tbilisi Marriott properties, says she came into the program with uncertainty over which area of hospitality she was best suited to work in.

“I joined this program because I liked that it offered a chance to explore the different departments of hotel operations,” she tells Investor.ge. “I was initially interested in seeing how the kitchen department works and if it would be a good fit for me. I learned that it is not for me, but I also found that I enjoy working in food and beverage and events much more,” she says, adding, “I think for those who are interested in hospitality, this program definitely helps you figure out where you should send your CV.”

For others like Kesaria Vachadze, who completed her traineeship at the Radisson Blu Iveria, the program offered a chance to expand her knowledge after working in the sector for years. “I am from Kutaisi and previously worked at a resort in Sairme,” she says. “While I have worked in hospitality for several years, I wanted to move forward in my career and explore other departments outside of reception and food and beverage, which I have previously worked in.”

“I spoke to a number of employees at the hotel who said that they would love to opportunity to cross-train in different departments like we did,” Vachadze adds, noting that “this traineeship really helped me understand the bigger picture in how different departments work together to make an overall great experience for each guest.”

Representatives of USAID, AmCham, and the partner hotels cut a cake to celebrate the first cohort of trainees’ graduation

This chance to explore the expansive areas of career development in hospitality is a unique and important aspect of the program, noted USAID Economic Security Program Chief of Party Mark McCord at the graduation event. “During the pandemic, we heard that a lot of people left hospitality to work in IT or business output processing. What we want people to see through this program is that there are so many avenues they can take in the hospitality sector – IT, marketing, HR, engineering, food and beverage – there is a place to pursue all of these within a hotel.”

Changing perceptions

In addition to learning about career possibilities within the sector, participants of the program also expressed a newfound appreciation for the hard work it takes to succeed in the hospitality industry – as well as the amazing perks on offer.

Darejan Ozmanovi, who completed her training at the Sheraton Grand Metechi Palace, says that she never expected the hard work and coordination it takes to run a hotel. “Before this program, I had only ever studied hospitality in a theoretical sense, and it does not compare to what the daily work actually looks like. I must say, my first days here were really challenging. This is hard work and it’s fast-paced,” she admits.

“But it is also very rewarding. Seeing the satisfaction and enjoyment of guests feels so great. And the people here are like a family that support one another,” Ozmanovi tells Investor.ge. “Today was my first day officially working as an employee of the hotel, and I cannot tell you how many of my new colleagues have already come by to congratulate me and welcome me to the ‘family.’”

Ano Kilasonia, who trained at the Radisson Blu Iveria, echoes this sentiment about the sense of comradery within the hotel. “Throughout this project we have not only gotten to meet a wide variety of interesting people staying at the hotel,” she says. “But we also have a new network of colleagues and fellow trainees that are interested in hospitality and share our love of meeting new people.”

Creating sustainable growth

At the graduation event, Senior Private Sector Engagement Advisor for USAID/Georgia Beverly Hoover noted that programs like this are an important part of developing the sector in a way that has a lasting impact. “The hospitality sector is a major driver of the Georgian economy. Projects like these are an important part of creating sustainable job growth,” said Hoover.

As part of the program’s efforts to infuse the sector with a highly skilled workforce, 12 of the program participants were offered immediate employment at the end of their training from the hotels. Following graduation, a job fair was also held on November 14, where the remaining project participants had the opportunity to meet representatives of 11 hotels from around Georgia and discuss employment opportunities.

In addition to employment opportunities, some participants, like Giorgi Samkharadze, who trained at the Tbilisi Marriott hotels, see this program as the perfect steppingstone to their own entrepreneurial endeavors.

“I have decided to open my own small hotel. Seeing how the departments here at the Marriott interact, how marketing works, and how they hold events – I plan to take all of this with me and implement what I have learned so that my hotel can offer a high level of service too.”

Beyond the success of its first cohort, the program will continue to work to instill international standards of hospitality training and create high value employment through training for regional hotels and a call for a second cohort of trainees, expected in December.

This article was written with the support of the USAID Economic Security Program.