Waipahu resident Jackie Pauole has years of hotel experience, but that didn’t stop her from signing up for free hospitality classes offered by the Ko Olina Resort Association in preparation for the arrival of Oahu’s first Four Seasons-branded property.
Following extensive renovations, The Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina is slated to open at the site of the former JW Marriott Ihilani property next spring. The resort will need to hire 700 to 800 workers to meet the high-service levels required by its five-star rating. Pauole, who has been looking for hospitality work since the JW Marriott Ihilani’s January closure, said she took seven free classes — ranging from introductory Japanese language to resume writing, CPR, cultural training and delivering professional five-star service with aloha — in the hopes that she will have a hiring edge when Four Seasons begins choosing Oahu staff.
"After taking the classes, I feel more prepared to interview and deliver five-star service," said Pauole, who worked at the JW Marriott from 2003 to 2015 in various food-and-beverage and retail positions. "For instance, I learned that to be successful at Four Seasons, we need to go beyond the call of service to anticipate and deliver what the guest needs before being asked."
Pauole is just one of 360 west-siders who signed up for the Ko Olina International Hospitality Program offered by the resort association’s West Honolulu Training Fund, which has given away over $1 million worth of scholarships since its inception in the early 2000s. This time around, the fund forked over $200,000 to offer displaced hotel workers and other west-siders the opportunity to take 43 classes in 12 subjects taught by instructors affiliated with local community colleges, the American Hotel Lodging Education Institute, the University of Hawaii’s Travel Industry Management School, LearningBiz, Cornell University and the Culinary Institute of America.
"We felt that we needed to prepare adequately for a different kind of clientele that wasn’t our profile earlier. All Ko Olina businesses are on board with this and excited about a new partner coming to town and what it could mean for the area," said Sweetie Nelson, Ko Olina Resort Association’s director of destination marketing. "We are trying to get all Ko Olina employees to be aware and take advantage of new opportunities. We’re trying to be better at hospitality because it’s our business."
While the free hospitality classes were open to any West Oahu residents, Nelson said 90 percent of the enrollment was composed of former JW Marriott workers. Classes took place Aug. 3 to Thursday.
"We appreciate the care shown by Ko Olina businesses to elevate our services and help displaced workers increase our chances and come in with strong resumes,"said Barry Leaman, who was the JW Marriott’s spa supervisor when the property closed. "Those of us who took classes were issued certificates that we can put on our resumes."
JW Marriott service levels were high, but Leaman said cutbacks after the 2009 downturn resulted in workers learning how to do more with less.
"We had a heart for service, but resources were thin," he said. "From our training we learned that this will be a very different experience. For Four Seasons it’s not about the money or the bottom line as much as it is about satisfying the guests and doing whatever it takes to give them a positive experience. If more resources are needed, those will be provided by Four Seasons."
Leaman said the opening of the Four Seasons is critical for the 400 to 500 former JW Marriott workers who are still unemployed.
"Waikiki has some openings, but many of us live on the west side and we don’t want to be in traffic two to three hours a day," he said.
Pauole said she’s excited about the opportunity to work at the Four Seasons, where she can share her aloha with a whole new generation of guests.
"I really love to work with people, and it would be great to be an ambassador of Hawaii in this very special place," she said.
Nelson said Four Seasons is expected to hold a job fair soon and has pledged first interviews will go to former JW Marriott workers.
"The level of optimism is high," Leaman said. "The Ihilani was really a four-star hotel at the end, but we are confident that the classes that we’ve taken will raise our level of service to fill in any gaps."
Four Seasons wasn’t affiliated with the classes, and it hasn’t announced it’s opening or hiring timetables. However, the resort’s website already allows guests to book rooms for June 1 and beyond.
Sanjiv Hulugalle, general manager of Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, said potential candidates can stay updated on available jobs through the Four Seasons website at jobs.fourseasons.com.
"The resort is currently undergoing an incredible transformation, and as we get closer to the opening next year, we will continue the recruiting process," Hulugalle said. "Four Seasons is a wonderful company to be a part of and is continuously recognized among the top companies to work for globally. I look forward to meeting residents who are excited and passionate about joining the Four Seasons ohana to be a part of our exciting journey."