Think out of the box

An interesting case study…

First you hire someone, then you train them. Right? David Bowd thinks that’s backward.

Earlier this year, the CEO of Salt Hotels was preparing to open his fourth location, in Asbury Park, New Jersey. But he didn’t run a cattle call. He and his team started Salt School instead.

“This is an industry where it’s all about attitude and hard work,” said Bowd, whose resume includes stints with boutique hoteliers like Ian Schrager and Andre Balazs.

The company invited local job-seekers to a free, 10-week, 25-hour introduction to hospitality, and the only requirement was explaining why they wanted to be included. The result: 380 applicants, from teens to 60-year-olds, for 160 spots – many with moving stories of seeking a break, a second chance, or to be a role model for their kids.

“We set about calling in every favor we could with all the hotel friends we had” to staff the Saturday morning sessions, Bowd said, which focused on topics like sales and marketing, F&B and revenue management. In one class, students role-played front desk scenarios – luggage delivered to the wrong room, complaints about loud neighbors. “The purpose was to make decisions on the fly. It’s thinking creatively,” he added.

Bowd watched students gravitate toward certain responsibilities. “It was such a natural evolution of people moving toward areas that they felt comfort in and had a passion for,” he remembered. It also fostered a healthy competition. “You see who’s shy, who’s outgoing, and you are able to match people with their skill set much easier because you see them perform,” he said.

In the end, 110 students graduated, and the hotel hired 67 (three have been promoted); 90% were from Asbury Park. Other local companies have inquired about hiring the students, as well.

“At the end I thought, why have we never done this before? We just employed a whole workforce that we’ve already spent 10 weeks with,” Bowd said. “They know what our core values are, they know what to expect, they have a passion, they’re all local. This is a no-brainer.”

It’s also a lot of hard work, he acknowledges, but with results that far exceeded traditional recruitment, using an approach that he would like to see larger companies use in the communities they enter.

The school moves next year to Topeka, Kansas, where Salt is working on a 109-room hotel. Former students will become staffers to help prepare for an early 2018 opening. “I’ve opened many hotels, and this is the best way of doing it,” Bowd said.

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