Jonelle Alexander lost her job as a front desk clerk at a hotel months ago.
She was busy searching for jobs when a friend who worked for an employment agency recommended a program at Florida International University that helps people learn skills to land a job in the hospitality industry.
The Learning Skills for Life program, developed by the beverage company responsible for such spirits as Ketel One and Johnnie Walker, is an outreach program intended to help unemployed and under-employed people .
“Everyone here is aiming to broaden their skills and become more marketable for employers,” said Alexander, who is currently enrolled in the six-week program.
Registration for the next session ends Oct. 1. Classes are free, but applicants have to be recommended by an employment agency or other qualified program in order to be considered.
Diageo, a leading producer of alcoholic beverages brands, launched the program in Latin America and the Caribbean four years under the name Learning for Life.
Since then, the program has had more than 60,000 graduates in 30 countries.
“With our Latin American hub based here in Miami, we decided to focus on the needs of the community and give young people the opportunity to feel worthy of a job in hospitality,” said Janelle Prieto, regional manager for Diageo.
Diageo decided to collaborate with FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management for the United States pilot program.
Classes take place at the Biscayne Bay campus, which houses the hospitality school.
The university and beverage company cover the tuition for the 65 students, which includes a two-week internship.
The program is based on six weeks of classroom training and two weeks of a paid internship.
During the classroom training, participants are taught how to tend bar, prepare food and serve diners.
They also learn about how to cater to guests at hotels.
Participants receive certification after they pass each test.
But the program goes beyond marketable skills. Students also learn how to set goals and take responsibility for their lives.
“Our goal is to give people necessary life skills that can help get them back on their feet,” said Jeffrey Wahl, project manager of the program.
Once the members graduate from the program, FIU and Diageo continue to help the graduates with job placement.
“We’re lobbying for them to get hired throughout the community,” said Wahl.
Johnny Pollack, a current student in the program, has already seen the success of Learning Skills for Life with his own brother.
Pollack’s younger brother was a part of the program’s first graduating class earlier this year and recently got a management job at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
“I joined without expecting to pick up many new skills,” said Pollack, who said his brother needed the job to support five children. “Instead, it has shown me how to have a different frame of mind.”
Alexander said she hopes to have similar luck.
“It is refreshing to have the opportunity to feel self-worth and be empowered,” said Alexander, who will graduate in October. “I now have enough confidence to face my future employers and impress them.”