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Shadow for the day


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POSTED: Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shynneth Ribao, a high school senior at Waipahu High School, sits behind the general manager's desk at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa.

David Lewin, the Hyatt's general manager, is in a budget meeting with two executives and jokingly inquires as to Ribao's opinion on some line items.

Ribao fast-tracked her way to the top during a recent shadow day for high school students sponsored by the American Hotel & Lodging Association to enable students to get an up-close look at the different careers and opportunities available to them in Hawaii's hospitality industry. Sixteen other students in the hospitality training programs at McKinley and Waipahu high schools also joined her, but most of them didn't get an office with a view.

“;Can you believe that a maid's cart costs $1,000? What do you think Shy, should we spend the money on maid's carts for Bonnie or give Tim the money to buy more plasma TVs for the rooms?”; Lewin asked a wide-eyed Ribao, who was thrust into the powerhouse of one of Hawaii's largest hotel chains during the first few moments of her shadowing job.

Ribao didn't have an answer for Lewin about company spending or her decided career path; however, she's on the right track to finding out answers.

“;This program is an excellent opportunity for students to get practical experience outside of the classroom. You can't learn everything in a book,”; said Laura Witter, Hyatt's training manager.

It's also an opportunity for Hyatt and other participating hotels to begin recruitment early, Witter said.

“;Our hope is that they'll remember this experience and come back after high school or college,”; she said. “;Our culinary department needs a certain level of experience after high school; however, many of our departments have entry-level jobs.”;

Even in a down market, it's important for Hawaii's hotels to be top of mind with applicants, Witter said.

“;The hospitality and service industry is the largest employer in Hawaii so there is always competition,”; she said. “;We keep a list of names of students that participate in this program and others like (Kapiolani Community College's) culinary program.”;

Shadowing is also one of the best ways for the industry to find and recruit dedicated workers, said Carolyn Wolfe, the Hyatt's front-office manager.

“;In the last few years, we've hired five or six people directly out of college,”; Wolfe said. “;The front office is an entry-level job for people that want to work their way up to management. There's a whole lot of guest exposure and interaction.”;

The front office might be an entry-level job, but it comes with a lot of responsibility, said Rubyanne Paulino, a McKinley High junior.

“;They deal with a lot of computer information and with a lot of people,”; said a frazzled Paulino during her first day on the job. “;It seems really hard, but they say it's not as difficult as it looks.”;

Taking the time to explain how the hospitality industry works to interested students is well worth the effort, said Lewin, who got his start in the hotel industry early, too.

“;These students, they are our future. They are the people who will be our next you name it - general managers,”; he said. “;Twenty years from now, Shy will be running a hotel and I'll be retiring.”;

But for now, it's a chance for students to learn hotel basics like the importance of being on time and smiling, Lewin said.

“;This is a great opportunity to get to them at an early age and cultivate an environment where they are more appreciative and understanding of their parents,”; he said. “;About half of these students have parents who work in Hawaii's hospitality industry.”;

Dionne Cambia, a 16-year-old McKinley High School junior, said she could relate more to her mother, who works in housekeeping at Hilton, after spending the day working in the kitchen at the Hyatt.

“;I want to stay in Hawaii so I'll probably work in the hotel industry, too,”; said Cambia as she plated her first attempt at a Caesar salad.

Richard Yi, a fellow McKinley High junior, said he was thankful for the opportunity to work alongside Michael Imada, a Hyatt banquet chef, for a day.

“;I want to take in everything that I can,”; Yi said as he learned how to prepare an herb-roasted chicken dish. “;We don't have a food-service program at my school and I need to be as prepared as possible for the job market.”;

When Yi graduates, competition for jobs will be fierce because of the down economy, he said.

“;I will need all of the experience that I can get,”; he said.

Imada, who got his start in the culinary field right after high school, said he was glad to share his expertise with Yi and other students.

“;The earlier they can get experience, and the more of it they can get, the better,”; he said. “;We look for experience when we hire in this department.”;

Throughout the shadowing day, students and their mentors worked together to create a memorable experience.

Brittany Hendrickson-Meyer, a McKinley High junior, said that spending the day learning to decorate a wedding cake and make tiramisu wasn't as difficult as what chefs go through on the TV show, “;Hell's Kitchen.”; But even so, “;it was pretty hard,”; she said.

“;It's a lot of pressure to make decorations for a cake,”; Hendrickson-Meyer said.

Henry Foster, a Hyatt pastry cook, sympathized with Hendrickson-Meyer, but he still made her redo the frosting rosettes until she got them right.

“;I know how she feels,”; he said. “;I started in the profession my second day out of high school.”;

Nowadays, it takes on-the-job experience and a degree to get ahead, Foster said.

Todd Hayashi, an assistant pantry at Hyatt, said he went to Kapiolani Community College's culinary arts program to get training but that it's good for students to have an opportunity to see what the industry is like before they pursue higher education.

“;When I went to school, I didn't realize what it was like in the industry,”; Hayashi said. “;It's good for students to find out early if they like this profession or not.”;

Working poolside was a hit with 16-year-old Ralph Manuel of McKinley High School. Instead of spending the day in class, he got to spend time in the open air passing out towels to pool guests.

“;I'm really enjoying my day,”; Manuel said, as his gaze drifted to the ocean's wide horizon. “;I'm thinking about working in the hospitality industry because it's the best place to find a job in Hawaii.”;