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Leaders in Developing Washington’s Workforce: Goodwill of Greater Washington, UDC Community College, and Progressive Partners’ HOPE project

July 19, 2013
Members of Progressive Partners stand with Yvette Thomas-Henry (center) key-note speaker at HOPE graduation. Yvette Thomas-Henry is the manager of Four Seasons Washington, the city’s only 4 star, 4 diamond hotel.

Members of Progressive Partners stand with Yvette Thomas-Henry (center) key-note speaker at HOPE graduation. Yvette Thomas-Henry is the manager of Four Seasons Washington, the city’s only 4 star, 4 diamond hotel.

The Washington region hosts the greatest number of college graduates in the nation. Our region is booming and our growth stems from high-skill and high-demand professional, business, and governmental sectors. In just the last two years, 30,000 people, many young and highly-qualified workers, have moved into the District. This demographic shift has been welcomed by businesses, developers, and many residents, and has visibly changed store fronts and sky lines. Our job market stands in bright contrast with much of the rest of the nation still crawling out of recession.

But it’s not a sunny day in Washington for all the region’s residents. Where do long-time Washingtonians fit in to this picture? Particularly those who do not have specialized skills from higher education, and those who have the responsibility of supporting a family, in addition to making their way into a career? While the region as a whole is thriving, hundreds of thousands of residentsare struggling to achieve economic security.

Many unemployed, underemployed, and low wage workers in the District are having a difficult time keeping up with the rising cost of living and are struggling to find a place in the DC job market, which increasingly demands credentialed post-secondary education.

But there is HOPE (Hospitality Outreach Pathways to Employment). Through support from the Walmart Washington@Work initiative, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, Goodwill of Greater Washington, and the consortium of invested employers known as Progressive Partners, have teamed up to help low-income and unemployed workers be competitive in an increasingly competitive job market. These partners know that hospitality and service are growing Washington industries. By bridging the knowledge of leaders in nonprofits, business, and education, the HOPE project offers residents the opportunity to gain employment through top-tier relevant skills training, extensive career counseling, a nationally recognized post-secondary credential, and most importantly, successful job placement services after graduation.

Lead instructor Ellwood Reid bids farewell to his students but welcomes them as peers into the industry.

Lead instructor Ellwood Reid bids farewell to his students but welcomes them as peers into the industry.

Strategically, investment in hospitality training will go a long way in the years to come. Though the hospitality and service industry makes up a lower percentage of total jobs currently worked in DC, its rate of employment growth is higher than professional, business, and government services combined, with positions rapidly opening for newcomers. The industry offers a large number of entry level positions, as well as multilateral career pathways.

Progressive Partner employer, Thomas Penny, who is manager of the Courtyard by Marriott Washington Convention Center, and a managing partner of HOPE, exemplifies the service industry opportunity path. Working his way up from dishwasher to manager, Penny has a thorough knowledge of the industry and has seen the opportunities it holds for Washington residents. Individuals have the opportunity to enter the industry even at the lowest positions, as he did, and move upwards as they gain skills and experience.

One HOPE graduate embraces Thomas Penny before crossing the stage to accept his certificate.

One HOPE graduate embraces Thomas Penny before crossing the stage to accept his certificate.

Goodwill’s HOPE is certainly not the first program designed to train and place adults into the maturing Washington metropolitan hospitality industry. Penny says that he has seen many programs with a similar intent. “Some of them have been successful but many have not because they have failed to get industry people invested in them and connected to them.” HOPE is different.

The instructional effort is shared across HOPE’s talented team of partners. The program plays to the strength of the University of the District of Columbia’s Community College in teaching math proficiency and digital literacy, while the instructors from Progressive Partners with industry experience are appointed to lead the hospitality specific training. Chablis Jenkins of Goodwill instructs the Life Skills section of the curriculum. In Life Skills, every student prepares a resume and also learns how to build successful relationships in the workplace and understand employer expectations and workplace etiquette, invaluable skills in any industry.

Ellwood Reid of Progressive Partners stands out as a star of the program. He is HOPE’s lead instructor and previously had remarkable success in managing and motivating staff in Marriott’s South East location. “I knew that if he was that successful with his staff, then I wanted him on board to instruct this class,” says Penny. Through their experience, Reid and the team of instructors bring life to the text and offer inspiration to the students. “I can’t imagine having better instructors,” says alumnus Alex Holland.

HOPE’s method and partnerships are already paying off for their most recent class of 35 graduates. With the support of the program, 17 of those graduating had already found jobs by graduation day and many were expected to be placed shortly after.

Considering the future of the industry, Penny says DC is one of the most coveted locations in the country, if not the world. If we can build a dream team of effectively prepared residents through serious programs such as HOPE, then the opportunities are ripe for them in the years to come.”

Through the continued dedication of staff, students, community and business partners, and the support of private philanthropy, HOPE and The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region promise to increase the stake that Washington will hold in this developing industry, and to lead more families to economic security.

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