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Santa Monica’s Hospitality Training Academy Touts Successes, Addresses Challenges

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

March 7, 2014 -- Santa Monica’s newest vocational training program, designed to get at-risk youth in their late teens and early twenties into skilled jobs, is off to a good start, officials said, but it’s facing some challenges.

The Hospitality Training Academy (HTA), the roughly $93,000 initiative funded by the City Council in June, is making some headway with its first 24 participants.

But with some of them having criminal histories, low math proficiency and part-time, low paying jobs that interfere with training, there are still obstacles to overcome.

“It's a new program for all of us,” said Setareh Yavari, Human Services manager. “I think we're trying to understand the lay of the land.”

Following a rash of gun violence last summer that left seven dead, the City Council approved the HTA as part of a larger strategy to address the root causes of youth violence. (“City Calls for Closer Collaboration to Solve Santa Monica's Youth Violence Problem,” June 19, 2013)

At its annual budget meeting in June, the City Council funded the HTA to give 50 18 to 24-year-olds the skills they need to find career paths in Santa Monica’s booming hospitality and restaurant industries. (“Nonprofit to Help Santa Monica Youth Get Jobs,” August 1, 2013)

Since then, the HTA, which works out of Virginia Avenue Park in the heart of Santa Monica’s historically underserved Pico Neighborhood, has worked with local nonprofits to identify candidates for the program.

“Our collective work is expanding job training and employment for young adults in Santa Monica,” said Oscar de la Torre, a member of the School Board and founder of the Pico Youth & Family Center (PYFC), of one of the nonprofits working with HTA.“We all reap the benefits when we support our youth.”

Since the program started last fall, eight of the 24 participants “have applied and/or interviewed for hospitality positions within Santa Monica,” according to City staff.

That’s a “really positive” start, said Julie Rusk, director of Community and Cultural Services.

“The goals are the same. It's just a matter of tweaking the strategies,” she said, referring to overcoming some of the obstacles the participants face.

“A number of youth referred to HTA have criminal records which precludes them from applying for positions in hospitality,” City officials said.

“HTA continues to work with  these  youth  by  offering  opportunities  in  trades  union  programs which  are open to youth with records,” officials said. “HTA will also support these youth in expunging their records.”

Another major problem is scheduling. “There's a segment of this population that are underemployed, not unemployed,” Rusk said.

More than half of the current participants are juggling part-time work with full-time job training, officials said.

HTA is “really looking at how to create flexibility and training,” said Yavari.

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