CLEVELAND - Sometimes you have to go through to get to.
Those are wise words from someone who knows the struggle of finding work when you're dogged by a past mistake.
In Northeast Ohio, there is help. You can find it at an agency that specializes in second chances and at the new Cleveland employer that makes them happen.
When the Hilton Cleveland Downtown opened last year, the grand amenities, breathtaking views, and rooms booked in months in advance drew most of the attention.
But months before, when the Hilton began holding job fairs, management made a pledge. They would hire -- not from the staff of other hotels -- but rather from job seekers here.
"We have a responsibility to Cleveland. A responsibility to the state and to the city to really hire from the demographic that is here and we took it very seriously," said Teri Agosta, general manager at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown.
When the Hilton opened last year, 87 percent of those hired had no prior hospitality experience. But their employment began with a solid week of training, just to learn about what it means to be a Hilton team employee.
That's in addition to several weeks of training in their department. "Number one: we believe that happy team members make happy guests. So our priority is to keep our team members happy," Agosta stated.
Hiring from the demographic also meant considering candidates who had barriers to employment.
"We manage from the heart. So we are not afraid to show our team members our vulnerabilities. We're not afraid to hear what they have to say. We are not afraid to give them a second chance," Agosta explained.
Towards Employment specializes in second chances. The Cleveland non-profit is built on breaking down those barriers through training, hard work and a commitment to success.
"Just getting a job is not enough. We have to think about how they are on a pathway to advance," explained Jill Rizika, executive director at Towards Employment.
The agency addresses the issues, from legal ones to applications, interviewing skills, resumes and professional coaching. It's what they do. And, best of all, Towards Employment stays connected, even after job seekers hear the words: you're hired.
"I'm just grateful. I have a lot of gratitude," said Terry, who works as a bellman at the hotel. He assists guests with anything from luggage, directions, or advice on how to best enjoy their stay. Thirty years of customer service experience is evident. But Terry admits a problem in his past shook his confidence.
"It was a non-theft, non-aggressive offense. In other areas, it would be considered a misdemeanor but, in Cleveland, it wasn't," Terry said.
His problem was resolved in court, but not in the eyes of potential employers. Over the years, as he searched for a job, Terry says he would be up-front on his applications, would go to interviews, get call backs and pass drug tests with flying colors.
But then, nothing.
Sometimes you have to go through to get to.
It's a saying Terry lives by. He reached out to Towards Employment for help and credits it for turning career path around. The agency has built relationships with Cleveland employers and helps train candidates for job openings.
The Hilton's Director of Human Resources gave a talk at Towards Employment. After hearing her speak, Terry knew he wanted to work there. He spent more than seven hours at a Hilton job fair. He even passed on another job offer, hoping he would get the job he really wanted. This time, the call came.
"It was such a feeling and they had over a thousand applications and to be one of the top 300, that was a blessing. That was nothing but God," Terry said.
"You just want to work like everyone else. It can be very frustrating, very discouraging," said Yolanda.
Like Terry, she had a problem in her past. Yolanda turned to Towards Employment. She says one of the most valuable things the agency taught her was how to prepare for job interviews.
"Because I had a barrier, I had to make sure I stuck out. More than the next person. People look for that energy, that smile, what makes you different. So you need to find what sets you apart from other people. And you just sell it. You have to sell it," she explained.
It worked. Hilton hired Yolanda to work as a guest services coordinator. Working as part of a team, Yolanda says she has never had a job where she felt as empowered as she does here.
"Do whatever you have to do to make it right. That really makes me feel good as an employee that they trust me enough to take care of what I need to take care of for the guest," said Yolanda.
On the job almost a year, Yolanda is looking to the future. She hopes to one day be promoted to manager and lead a team of her own.
For Stanley, who works to keep the public spaces up to Hilton standards, this job was a first for him in several ways.
"This job changed my life. Because of the stuff the Hilton offered for their employees, the benefits," Stanley said. He has health care, including dental and vision coverage. Paid time off and a 401k are part of the package too. Team members also get a free lunch, prepared for them by Hilton chefs and a clean, freshly pressed uniform ready for them every day.
But for Stanley, one of biggest benefits is the way employees treat and greet one another. And it starts from the top of Hilton management all the way to the newest hires. "We all go by first names here, like family. It's like one big family," Stanley said.
"We really have opportunities to partner with employees to achieve this win-win," said Towards Employment's Jill Rizika. By creating opportunities for pools of applicants, that might not otherwise be considered and making sure that they have all the skills necessary for the job,
Towards Employment says it's not only meeting employers' needs but making a difference in the community as well.
Towards Employment also helps job seekers with other barriers to employment, including those without a high school diploma or technical credential, as well as people living near or below the poverty level.
For its part, the Hilton takes risks on every employee it hires, not just those with prior missteps. Their working relationship with Towards Employment makes the process easier.
"We have found that, once we give them a second chance, they are grateful. Their work ethic and productivity is so much higher. We are absolutely changing lives, that is what we do. And to see it as this level is heart-warming. It is contagious," Agosta added.
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