Apprentice and Mentor Program Helps Grow a Talented, Certified Workforce

January 18, 2023 | 957 Views

Apprentice and Mentor Program Helps Grow a Talented, Certified Workforce

Kate Stiteler, CHT

Director of Training | Sonesta International Hotels Corporation

This article first appeared in the February 2023 issue of Hotel Management Magazine.

Though the industry may be in recovery, the tumultuous upsets to the labor pool have caused lost institutional knowledge, holes in succession, and significant skill gaps in new people who have not “come up” through the industry. Training can help upskill with a targeted, creative approach.

At Sonesta hotels, we grew from 1,000 to 8000+ employees in less than two years. We needed a robust and impactful training program to fuel our rapid growth and build our bench strength. We partnered with the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI), and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) Foundation to leverage their Lodging Manager Apprenticeship program. Our first “class” focused on a diverse group of Assistant General Managers.

Sonesta Assistant Managers Complete Elevate Program

So far, we have a 91% retention rate of the program’s graduates. Here’s how an apprentice-style process works:

Apprentice & Mentor Selection – This is what makes the program tick. Apprentices are identified, nominated, and asked to apply. They are selected based on performance, commitment, and attitude. They are then paired with an experienced mentor. Commitment to the program must come from the top – consider the COO and all VPs being mentors in the program.

Structured Administration – The Training Team holds virtual meetings to review program details, progress, resources, and expectations. “Leadership Speaker Series” calls give apprentices direct access to executive leadership.

Self-Paced Online Lessons – Apprentices complete online courses that are competency-based, which allows for self-pacing based on skill.

On-the-Job Training – Apprentices receive training from their experienced mentor on 137 skills in six areas. A checklist of skills is signed-off on throughout the program.

Sonesta Assistant Managers Complete Elevate Program

Incentives and Recognition
– Use a Learning Management System (LMS) to house virtual checklists and allow for badges and milestone tracking. Hold a “graduation,” where graduates receive incentives such as branded gifts, and attend a ceremony at corporate headquarters.

Return on Investment – At Sonesta, twenty apprentices have graduated in less than nine months with a 91% retention rate. They are now more committed to their career path at the company. Of those twenty, eight have already been promoted, allowing us to fill a manager role that can cost tens of thousands of dollars due to turnover. Several graduates are now mentors to new apprentices, creating a self-perpetuating program.


Unlike other employers, such as the Amazons and Ubers of the world, the personal development experiences in lodging companies are unparalleled. Adding a structured program such as this reinforces to your staff why it’s great to work for (and stay with) you.

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