Starting in the early 1990s, city officials realized the need to build a new, larger convention center to become more competitive in the convention market, and enable it to attract increased business to the District. In 2003, the new Walter E. Washington Convention Center opened in downtown Washington DC, with more than 2.3 million-square-feet of facility space and the ability to house up to 42,000 attendees at a time. Given the considerable size of the new Center, and with few large hotels nearby, DC leaders understood the need to construct a convention headquarters hotel. They also recognized the project as an opportunity to foster economic revitalization, with a focus on bringing new workforce opportunities to underserved local residents.
In 2002, the District granted the award for the convention headquarters hotel to Marriott International. And in 2006, the Washington Convention and Sports Authority issued $161 million in bonds to help support the project. Most notably, the funds included $2 million to develop the HQ Hotel Jobs Training Program in collaboration with local community organizations. Goodwill of Greater Washington was selected as the workforce intermediary for the program, and formed a team with ONE DC, GROW, Progressive Partners, United Way of the National Capital Area, and the University of the District of Columbia Community College to coordinate the recruitment, screening, training, and referral of District residents for between 550-600 jobs at the new hotel. Goodwill engaged Equal Measure to evaluate all aspects of this training program model, including partnership-building, recruitment and marketing, participant training, and retention management.
The Jobs Training Program referred more than 700 District residents to the hotel, surpassing the initial target numbers.*
The new hotel opened in May 2014 with 492 employees, 178 (36%) of which came from the program. After six months, 152 of the program hires were still actively employed at the hotel, resulting in a retention rate of 81%. Compared to the average turnover rate of 50% among non-managerial hotel employees, the Jobs Training Program’s high rate of retention reflects the strength of the community partnership and effectiveness of the program’s curriculum. Additionally, the retention management and support services offered to participants was a key contributing factor in participants’ success and the overall success of the program.
For Equal Measure, the Jobs Training Program offers important lessons about how to effectively structure and implement a jobs training program. Through our evaluation, we found a number of programmatic approaches to be integral to the training program’s success, including:
- An Engaged Funder: Having a funder focused not only on ensuring compliance and accountability with contract requirements, but that also acts as a core partner and resource for brainstorming solutions to program challenges, developing key metrics to track program success, and who maintains strong and consistent communication with the project lead is invaluable.
- A Well-Resourced Investment: Large-scale, multi-partner, service-oriented, highly visible projects require a significant monetary investment. The scope of this project in terms of the number of targeted persons served and the amount of services provided to each person required substantial resources.
- A Committed Employer: Having a strong partnership with a committed and flexible employer allows for authentic opportunities for engagement and increases the likelihood of participant hires.
- A Diverse and Committed Partnership: Assembling a team of partners with complementary core competencies and assets committed to the same goal is critical for success.
- A Strong Backbone Organization: The lead organization in a multi-step program with a diverse partnership, must include a project director with exceptional operations management and logistical planning expertise, pulling together and holding accountable all partners.
- Effective Data Management System: A large-scale well-resourced program requires a robust data management system that includes a dedicated analyst and team members who manage the system to collect and store all required information.
* Graduation and formal referral from the program did not guarantee job placement.