Young Jamaicans benefit from Sandals’ Management Trainee Programme

When Okine Riley was just seven years old he saw, for the first time, a Sandals ad on television. He was impressed with what he saw and told himself that he would one day be a part of the Sandals team.

Over two decades later, Riley who had been working elsewhere in the industry is the assistant executive housekeeper at Sandals Negril. Not only has he fulfilled his dream of joining the company, he is among several Jamaicans who have been hand-picked for the company’s prestigious Management Trainee Programme (MTP) over the last few years.

The MTP is a robust two-year training programme which prepares both new hires and existing team members for leadership roles in the company. Management trainees are exposed to strategic hands-on training through rotations in various departments at the company’s resorts in seven islands in the Caribbean. At the end of the training, and having specialised in their area of choice, successful candidates are placed in management roles.

Since 2012, the company has graduated four batches of managers through the programme, among them 29 young Jamaicans. This year, another 21 young managers will graduate and join their colleagues in leadership roles, having received extensive training and exposure across the region.

For Riley, who spent almost nine months at Sandals Grenada in addition to several months at various Jamaican resorts, the regional exposure was especially priceless. “Receiving regional exposure significantly helped to prepare me to be a manager,” he said. “Each resort has a wealth of knowledge, and being exposed to several resorts especially regionally helped to increased my knowledge and understanding of my area of specialisation. I was able to see the pros and cons of certain management styles which helped me to formulate my own style and approach as a manager. Different resorts were able to teach me different lessons.”

Before his management trainee journey, Horatio Brown worked as a concierge agent in the Club Sandals Department at Sandals Ochi Beach Resort for six years. He decided to pursue the programme to grow personally and professionally, gain wider knowledge of resort operations and to move one step closer to his ultimate goal of becoming a general manager or regional operations manager.

The experience, thus far, has taken him to Sandals South Coast and Sandals Royal Plantation in Jamaica, as well as to Beaches Turks and Caicos in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Brown, who is training to become a butler manager, is currently on an eight-month rotation at Sandals Grenada, an experience he describes as an eye-opener.

“The regional experience has taught me how to adjust to various cultures and how to appreciate the diversity of our workforce. I’ve been able to meet new people, learn new ways of doing things and become exposed to various best practices which I can replicate in my operation,” said Brown, who believes he has grown tremendously and has come into his own as a manager.

“I’ve learnt my management style, gained valuable experience working with budgets, strengthened my public speaking skills and learnt how to think critically and make key decisions. I am now confident in my ability to lead a team. Because of this programme I am fully versed in my area of specialisation, I understand how my department interlinks with others and that we all must work together to create the best experiences for our guests,” he shared.

The experience has been similar for Jodi Dunkley, who, like Brown, was working as a concierge before she joined the programme. She describes the experience as humbling and life-changing.

“I’m appreciative of all the opportunities I’ve received. I never dreamed I’d be here but I’ve been given a platform to connect with people and encourage others to be the best they can be. I’ve definitely become more confident,” Dunkley said.

In addition to short stints at Sandals Royal Plantation and Sandals Ochi Beach Resort, Dunkley’s training took her to Sandals Emerald Bay in The Bahamas for six months and to Sandals Grande St Lucian in Saint Lucia for a nine-month rotation.

“The foundation of a good leader is the ability to build genuine relationships and understand your team members, not only in the workspace but as individuals,” she said. “This regional experience has taught me how to do just that, and in this people-oriented industry that is very important. Dealing with different cultures and different people I’ve learnt to appreciate the diversity we have here in the region.”

For Canute Johnson, whose Sandals career began as a hospitality trainee at Sandals Montego Bay, the journey has come full circle. Having successfully completed his management training and spending time in both Antigua and Barbados, Johnson is now the chief steward at Sandals Regency La Toc in Saint Lucia.

“In my mind I could picture myself as a manager, but I could never quite figure out how to acquire the pieces to the puzzle even though I had the ability to put them together,” he said of his management trainee journey.

“Essentially, the lessons learnt in the programme were the puzzle pieces I needed. Working at different resorts and in different departments helped me realise what those puzzle pieces were, which ultimately helped me transition into the role of chief steward,” Johnson explained.

Crediting the regional exposure for shaping him into the manager he is, he added, “Each resort executes similar procedures in different ways and their team members have different teaching methods. Having knowledge of all the different techniques allowed me to compare, contrast and combine the different bits of information to achieve one final outcome, innovation.”

Adam Stewart, Sandals Resort International’s deputy chairman, said the Management Trainee Programme was yet another manifestation of the company’s commitment to facilitating the development of young Jamaicans.

“The future of our company and indeed the future of our industry rests in the hands of our young people. An investment in their development is an investment in the industry, the economy and, of course, an investment in the future of these talented youngsters who have so much to offer,” Stewart said.

“Sandals was born in Jamaica but we have since expanded throughout the region, so it’s only fitting that we provide our trainee managers with exposure to our operations across the Caribbean. In addition to opportunities for hands-on learning, we’re also facilitating cultural exchange and exciting opportunities and experiences for young Jamaicans.”

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