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Dual purpose Featured

9:40am EDT July 22, 2002
In the early 1990s, Marriott Corp. faced a problem that plagued many large companies — a lack of qualified workers.

Marriott had high turnover, in part because many of its employees lacked basic work ethics and an understanding of its expectations.

So in 1991, the company set out to combat the problem by launching Pathways to Independence, a program designed to train welfare recipients and people with disabilities for full-time jobs. In essence, Marriott created its own work force.

The pilot program began in Atlanta, and two years ago, Marriott expanded the venture into Cleveland. Approximately 30,000 welfare recipients live in Cuyahoga County, and many will lose their benefits in October due to national welfare reform. And, with the tight labor market locally, there’s no question that employers are seeking to expand the available worker pool.

Since June 1998, approximately 200 people have graduated from the program, which involves 60 hours in the classroom and 180 hours on the job, explains Ursula Hamrick, Pathways to Independence coordinator at Cleveland Marriott Downtown. For six weeks, participants receive no pay as they’re taught basic skills such as dependability, positive work attitudes, how to show a willingness to work hard and appropriate dress and behavior on the job. And because Marriott’s business is hospitality, Hamrick emphasizes two other skills: “Team effort to achieve a common goal and the ability to treat customers in a pleasant manner.”

According to Fred Kramer, director of community employment and training at Marriott corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C., it costs between $5,000 and $6,000 to train one Pathways associate. The company’s found underwriters to help defray the costs in nonprofit partners such as the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission, which covers half the tab. Nationally, Pathways has 2,300 graduates and operates in 40 cities.

Marriott places most of its graduates in housekeeping, laundry or guest services — three of the jobs it has the most difficulty filling, explains Hetz Wochholz, general manager for Marriott Lodging in Greater Cleveland.

Wochholz says the program has not only benefited the company, but also the community.

“It’s the best thing we do,” he says. “In many businesses, you’re not given the opportunity to do the right thing for people. Pathways helps us to touch the softer side of business.”

Pathways graduates require more time to learn the job and take on a full workload, says Wochholz, but there’s a greater payoff in the end, as retention rates among graduates are higher than those for conventional hires. How to reach: Cleveland Marriott Downtown, (216) 696-9200; Marriott Corp., (800) 638-8108

Susan Brachna is a Shaker Heights-based free-lance journalist.