USA. HMSHost and Paradies Lagardère, two leaders in the airport food & beverage sector, have hailed the success of a groundbreaking Project SEARCH programme at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Project SEARCH is a school-to-work transition programme for young adults with disabilities. It originated in 1996 at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and has since grown to over 400 sites nationally and internationally.

The latest project started in October 2017 and ended last month. It marked a first-of-its-kind community partnership in an airport, and was supported by HMSHost and Paradies Lagardère. The two concessionaires created six positions for a nine-week rotational programme in collaboration with the airport, Project SEARCH, Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Meet the Project SEARCH Class of 2018: The six interns are full of smiles at last month’s graduation ceremony.

Six interns were trained and supervised by Project SEARCH Skills Trainers and briefed by guest speakers on interviewing, financial literacy, safety and health and wellness. They gained hands-on experience in the airport’s warehouses and selected F&B outlets, including Quiznos and Famous Famiglia in the Food Court, Starbucks, French Meadow Bakery & Café, and Usinger’s.

The programme led to placements for five of the interns. The sixth candidate is likely to start working when family commitments are completed.

Isabella Kitzman is now working at the D concourse Starbucks outlet as a utility worker responsible for a range of duties, from stocking retail to maintaining a condiment bar to closing down the store at night.

She said: “The programme has taught me what it feels like to have a job and how to learn how to have a job. And getting paid for it is awesome!

“My favourite part about working at the airport is meeting all the passengers and pilots and getting to know where they are flying to. I like learning about places they travel and why they are travelling. I also love the people I work with at Starbucks. Working at Starbucks is fun and I hope one day I can learn how to make coffee.”

The smile says it all: A proud Isabella Kitzman shows off her first pay cheque after completing the Project SEARCH programme.

HMSHost Director of Operations Robert (Bob) Kiepert commented: “We always wanted to do something like this at General Mitchell International Airport.

“Participating in, and playing a role in initiating this programme in the airport, was an all-around amazing and inspiring experience. The biggest takeaway from our inaugural class was that the interns are just like anyone else. They’re people who just want to work, contribute to something, feel like they are appreciated and have a good overall quality of life.”

Kiepert said the travel retail F&B sector was “ideal” for new workers of any ability. “There’s almost always a job that’s a fit and if you give someone a shot, it’s very likely they will live up to it.

“The programme has created a buzz within the community at the airport which is exciting to witness. And, of course, it has also led to some important community partnerships and goodwill, not to mention the great memories and benefits to our business.”

HMSHost Director of Operations Robert Kiepert and Paradies Lagardère General Manager Lori Becker joined forces in the Project SEARCH programme.

Kiepert described the programme as a “great fit” for HMSHost’s CSR and operations. “As a local employer in Milwaukee, we have the privilege of being able to provide stable jobs in a safe workplace to our neighbours. However participating in Project SEARCH goes beyond being a recruiting programme or strategy for HMSHost; it is an investment in the future of our own community too.”

Paradies Lagardère General Manager at Mitchell International Airport Lori Becker said: “It was a win-win situation all round. We achieved our aim to offer the interns jobs in the real world and my company and HMSHost cooperated like great neighbours.

“It was a pleasure to work together under one umbrella and it has definitely brought the two management teams, and all various other sectors of the airport – be that car hire, technical support or retailing – together. We were working like a family; the entire airport embraced the programme with everyone getting to know the interns and supporting their progress.”

“This has been an amazing opportunity to promote independent living for young adults with disabilities in our community who may not have received a chance to shine elsewhere.”

A spokesman for General Mitchell International Airport said the programme had enhanced awareness and dialogue between the airport and its concessionaires regarding the diversity of both its workforce and food offerings.

“This has been an amazing opportunity to promote independent living for young adults with disabilities in our community who may not have received a chance to shine elsewhere.”

Dressed and ready to go: The six interns are pictured with their Project SEARCH Skills Trainers Abigail Smith (on the left) and Sara Block (right).

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele added: “To me, one of the most important things we do as a government is to make sure that, where we engage with people, we empower them. These young adults are an inspiration to all of us, and I hope nobody ever tries to put a cap on what they are able to do.”

Goodwill Center for Work and Training Communications Manager Cheryl Lightholder noted the challenge of offering the programme in an airport environment. “We felt that the variety of rotational opportunities and the environment would offer an experience like no other for the interns. Many of the interns had never been to an airport before coming to Project SEARCH.”

The programme’s success has prompted a second class which will start next month and Lightholder believes the project will be adopted at other airports. “Project SEARCH has the ability to transform lives in very positive ways and can truly impact the business culture that can lead to increased productivity and teamwork,” she said.

“We need to educate and inform other airports about the Project SEARCH programme. Between Goodwill and our host business partner, we are happy to talk with anyone who is interested in starting up a programme like this. We would love to share information on how we started, best practices and what we learned.”