Working with the international Project SEARCH, as well as the local Unicorn Children’s Foundation and Unicorn Village Academy, the Boca Raton, Fla. club launched a job-training internship program for seven young adults with intellectual and developmental challenges. “It’s a good way to find employees who are dedicated and hard-working,” says Boca West’s Matthew Linderman.
Good help can be hard to find. When it comes to recruiting quality personnel, however, Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla., may be on to something.
Last year the property launched a job-training internship program for seven young adults with intellectual and developmental challenges, and this year Boca West has three interns on staff. The program is part of a partnership with the international Project SEARCH, as well as the local Unicorn Children’s Foundation and Unicorn Village Academy. All three entities serve children and young adults with developmental, communication and learning disorders.
The interns, who range in age from 18 to 24, work in various departments including food and beverage, retail, golf course maintenance and club services, which includes accounting and membership.
Boca West, which was selected by the Unicorn Children’s Foundation to be the first location for the workforce training partnership, offered full-time jobs to all seven interns from the 2018-19 program, and five of them accepted. Another is part of the 2019-20 internship program, which follows the school year from August to May.
“We were excited and happy to be asked to be part of this program,” says Matthew Linderman, CCM, President, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of Boca West. “Our training philosophy and culture has been a great match.”
Boca West has been a longtime supporter of the Unicorn Children’s Foundation through its own foundation, and the site of many events for the nonprofit organization. “We had a hard time finding a business partner after receiving a grant for the Project SEARCH program four years ago, but we had a great relationship with Boca West,” says Sharon Alexander, Chief Executive Officer of Unicorn Children’s Village.
Last year 15 students, who attend Unicorn Village Academy, a local middle and high school, interviewed for the positions. Eight students applied for the jobs this year. During their interviews, the applicants spoke with Boca West department heads. Each department also set up a station where the students had to perform tasks to demonstrate they had the required skills to perform the various jobs.
In the retail department, for instance, they had to fold clothes and sort them by size. For the golf course maintenance department, they had to organize tools and conduct parts inventory. At the food-and-beverage station, they had to perform a table setup.
The students who are hired take part in three 10-week internships in different departments. They begin each day in a classroom at Boca West CC to work on soft skills such as interviewing and resume composition, and they end the work day back in the classroom for a 30-minute reflection.
“The interns are fully immersed in their work environment. They’re not isolated,” says Linderman.
“It’s been a huge success and life-changing for the students, their families, and our staff,” he adds. “It puts life in perspective to have these individuals work alongside us.”
The internship program has been a hit with Boca West members as well. “The members have been tremendous,” says Linderman. “They’ve rallied around the program, and it’s been heartfelt. Some of them have grandchildren with disabilities. They’re very supportive and proud of the program.”
Boca West holds a graduation ceremony at the end of the school year and awards the interms with certificates. “Seeing kids blossom into young, self-sufficient adults is gratifying,” says Linderman.
Special-needs individuals can provide a viable labor pool for club properties, Linderman believes. “[Club managers] all have conversations about how hard it is to find good employees,” he says. “I would challenge other clubs and resorts around the country to challenge themselves to think outside the box to develop training programs. It’s a good way to find employees who are dedicated and hard-working. It’s what all Americans should be doing.”
Alexander agrees. “Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a lot to offer, but they are not often given the opportunity to showcase their skills and talents,” she says. The Unicorn Children’s Village can help any property launch a Project SEARCH program. “I would love to see this expand to other clubs,” says Alexander, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. “However, it’s important to find a partner that’s not just empathetic, but understands vocational training for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”