Developing (recruiting and retaining) talent

Three of the Cayman Islands’ biggest employers discuss how they are trying to recruit, hire and train residents and Caymanians. Representing multiple industries, leaders from Dart Enterprises, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and Foster’s Food Fair IGA also consider challenges particular to their organisations.

Dart Enterprises

As vice president of human resources and organisational development for Dart Enterprises, Juliet Du Feu deals directly with roughly 250 employees, and helps provide policy and general guidance across the remainder of the Dart Group, which employees some 600 people.

Dart works closely with government agencies, especially the National Workforce Development Agency, to publicise job openings within the company to Caymanians and residents.

“We do understand that there are a lot of Caymanians and permanent residents that are unemployed, so we have a responsibility to try and place those as well,” Mrs Du Feu says.

Last year, the company reached out to the government scholarship administration group, asking if there were any Caymanians returning on government scholarships that couldn’t be placed within government, specifically with finance or information technology degrees.

The company ended up hiring at least one person through that effort. Mrs Du Feu said the company receives a lot of open resumes or expressions of interest from local people. What the company is trying to do a better job of, is to meet with those applicants, engage them and see if there may be an opportunity down the line to employ them.

“Even if we don’t have a position today, we’re keeping those people interested and engaged,” she says.

In addition to the company’s continuing support for education generally, Dart participates in the Chamber of Commerce’s Careers Expo, had 22 students participate in its summer work experience programme, is sponsoring a college scholarship for one Caymanian who has expressed a serious interest in coming back and working for Dart, and has sponsored high school scholarships for two students through its Minds Inspired Scholarship Programme.

She says two more high school students will be identified this year for Minds Inspired. Also, the company is continuing to develop and expand its college scholarship programmes, which may happen as soon as this year.

The company has a dedicated learning manager Glenda Davidowski, who oversees learning and development for employees.

“We are in the process of redeveloping our new employee orientation programme to make sure employees get a good grounding, so when they come into our organisation they understand what the expectations are, and they start off on the right foot,” Mrs Du Feu says.

The company encourages employees to continue their own professional development, supporting their education through funding, time off, etc., as well as providing in-house training and development. “One of the things we focussed on specifically last year was really developing our managers,” Mrs Du Feu says.

When the company moved into its new offices at Camana Bay in December 2011, space was reserved for a training room with laptops.

“Over the last year we have provided things like computer application training and we were able to do that in-house in our own training room space,” she says.

The company sponsored four employees (including two Caymanians) for the Chamber’s Leadership Cayman programme. This year, they submitted applications for four Caymanian employees, of which three were selected to participate.

The diversity and size of the Dart Group pose some challenges and opportunities in terms of recruiting locally. On the one hand, some parts of the business are unique to Cayman, such as its investment group or Camana Bay property management, and so it can prove impossible to find a Caymanian who is qualified for a particular role. On the other hand, the company has the resources to take the long view on employment and oftentimes will hire a local for a junior role, with the intent of allowing them to gain experience in preparation to take on a more senior position.

Dart Enterprises and direct subsidiaries

  • 266 employees
  • 191 Caymanians and residents (72 per cent)
  • 75 work permit holders (28 per cent)
  • 63 per cent of management are Caymanians or residents
  • Entire Dart Group
  • 645 employees
  • 402 Caymanians and residents (62 per cent) 243 work permit holders (38 per cent)
  • 55 per cent of management are Caymanians or residents


The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman

Janette R. Goodman has been the director of human resources for The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, since 2008. That year, the resort hosted a series of three career events.

“We didn’t have a huge turnout, so I wondered why. And in conversations with, not just people in the local government, but in the community, predominately in the Caymanian community, that this wasn’t a preferred industry,” she says.

Facing a culture where the dominant aspirations for success are in the legal and financial industries, The Ritz-Carlton reached out to younger children, starting with Sir John A Cumber Primary School. In the “Reading Buddies” programme, hotel employees spend an hour each week reading with the schoolchildren. In addition to helping the children, the programme gives The Ritz-Carlton employees the opportunity to answer any questions the children might have about what working for the hotel is like.

“They ask about your job. We have the opportunity to talk about The Ritz-Carlton, to talk about the hotel industry, talk about what makes it more interesting than working for the bank. You don’t go in and sit at a desk. You get to meet people from all over the world. Through working at The Ritz-Carlton, you can travel all over the world. You can stay at partner hotels, really expand who you are,” she says.

Coming up, the resort has invited a science class from the school to the hotel’s bake shop, to show some practical applications of their science lessons.

The Ritz-Carlton also has relationships with the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre and the high schools, offering internships and job shadowing opportunities. The resort also has a strong partnership with University College of the Cayman Islands, she says.

Once a recruit is hired by The Ritz-Carlton, the new ‘lady’ or ‘gentleman’ goes through a three-day orientation about the company’s culture. General Manager Marc Langevin kicks off the programme talking about how The Ritz-Carlton employees are the property’s single-most important asset. “I’m sure if you’ve been into any other hotels, they serve food and have carpets and chandeliers, but I believe what sets us apart is the selection of ladies and gentlemen that come to work at The Ritz-Carlton,” Ms Goodman says.

After orientation, training continues for employees, both in classroom and on-the-job settings. For example, the resort has a specific session for new employees called Day 21.

“We reconvene with them 21 days later and see how their experience is, and if the fundamentals of The Ritz-Carlton are still alive and well,” Director of Sales and Marketing Jaime Moench says.

One example of continuing training is the upcoming ‘food and beverage university’, covering topics such as wine tasting, safe food handling, table setting, etc. The training allows for opportunities for promotion within the company. For example, if a housekeeper attends the food and beverage university, that person could then have the opportunity to help out with the banquet team. If that person shows proficiency, he/she could then move on from housekeeping.

“We also have some great online resources. I think a lot of that has to do with our partnership with the Marriott,” Ms Moench says.

Ms Moench identified The Ritz-Carlton’s relationship with Marriott as one of its biggest advantages as an employer, because it gives management the chance to help employees transfer to any of the more than 3,500 Marriott properties if they see an opportunity there.

Ms Goodman says job openings within Marriott are first advertised internally to existing employees before they are sent out to the general public. The Ritz-Carlton also puts on resume writing and job interviewing courses for employees in order to give them an advantage when applying for other jobs at Ritz-Carlton properties.

Training, development at The Ritz-Carlton

  • About 190 hours of training for new employees during their first year
  • 515 hours of participation with schools by employees in 2012
  • Community initiatives in 2012 with Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, Sunrise Adult Training Centre, Blue Iguana Recovery Programme and others.


Foster’s Food Fair IGA

Foster’s Food Fair IGA Managing Director Woody Foster is passionate about hiring Caymanians. That’s been a source of continuing frustration to him over the years.

“I remember when I was just coming out of college, so this would have been ’86. We were having this exact same conversation over at a barbecue, where we were talking about the difficulty with hiring Caymanians, and some of the people were with us saying, ‘It’s just too difficult. We’ll get work permits.’ I remember my euphemistic pink glasses, saying at the time, ‘You can’t give up. You gotta keep trying.’ That was what, 25, 26 years ago. Same exact conversation,” Mr Foster says.

Human resources manager Stephanie Wight says they don’t think they’re doing enough right now to recruit and hire residents and Caymanians, but they’re building on efforts that include advertising positions in the newspaper, working with the National Workforce Development Agency and increasing its involvement with the government’s Passport2Success programme.

“As a company we recognise that we have a commitment to the community, to the Cayman Islands, to hire locals and residents. We recognise that is part of our efforts. It is a difficult task. We also feel like we can do more,” Mrs Wight says.

For example, Foster’s plans to participate in the upcoming Chamber of Commerce’s Careers Expo.

“Hopefully we can show people there are other opportunities in the supermarket business than what they may think, and that it is a good place for growth, in the sense that you might come in at an entry-level position, but you could quickly move yourself up the ladder. We do pride ourselves on internal promotions,” Mrs Wight says.

Training Manager Raquel Solomon says much of the training that employees undergo is done on the job.

“Mastery learning. You watch someone. You try it. You perfect it. However, we haven’t always found that’s been particularly helpful in retaining employees. We are currently in the process of writing formal training plans. That will give both the trainer and the entry-level employee the idea of expectations for the role,” Ms Solomon says.

Foster says unskilled Caymanian workers can find themselves at a disadvantage compared to work permit holders, many of whom have education and experience and who have already shown the desire to succeed by leaving their homes for the opportunity of a better life.

In addition to not having experience, many local hires may not have basic computer skills or even an adequate level of literacy, Ms Solomon says. That means the company must help them learn those fundamental skills before the employee can be able to participate in job-related training.

“Our industry is not rocket science. Really all we want are people who have a desire to do well and who have an aptitude to learn. You don’t need to come with very many skills. We’ll teach you those,” Mr Foster says.

The problem is, Foster says, the grocery industry is at the bottom of the food chain in terms of salary and there is a stigma where locals don’t want to be seen working in the store, so there are proportionately more Caymanians working behind-the-scenes than in customer-facing positions.

“We are generally trying to hire more Caymanians, whatever that means, because now that gets blurry as well, in terms of what is a Caymanian. A lot of the abuse we’re facing is you go look out on the shop floor, and don’t see any Caymanian faces. To a large extent that’s true, but even the Caymanian ones don’t necessarily anymore have a ‘Caymanian’ face,” Mr Foster says.

He dismisses the government’s recent hike in work permit fees, saying, while it’s an extra cost of doing business, it doesn’t change their hiring strategy.

“It’s not our desire to have a work permit holder over a Caymanian. Absolutely not. It’s too expensive. However when you walk through the doors at 7am to purchase something, I have to have people to serve you,” he says.

Foster’s employee breakdown
All Foster’s locations, including supermarkets, Priced Right, Bay Market and Distribution Centre:

  • 475 employees
  • 201 Caymanians and residents (42 per cent)
  • 271 work permit holders (57 per cent)