Tampa hands-on training program at the Grand Hyatt gets results - WFLA News Channel 8

Tampa hands-on training program at the Grand Hyatt gets results

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The work can be fast paced. Washing watermelons and strawberries, cutting onions and peppers.

This is the Hands on Education program in the kitchen of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tampa.

The program is a partnership between Hyatt Hotels and the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

It's designed to help students with mild to moderate disabilities. John Ficca is the director of the program in Hillsborough County. Ficca says, " They have physical disabilities, they have intellectual deficits. I think the prototypical student that we get is, the ones we're targeting are the ones with learning disabilities."

Ficca says this isn't a cooking class, he says the students get one day of classroom training and then are put to work in the kitchen, learning on the job. Ficca says, " It's reality to the max. They are working with some of the best chefs in the industry."

Since it began at the Grand Hyatt in Tampa in 1998, the hands on training program has expanded to 28 hotels in 8 states.

Byron Gabel is the head chef at the Grand Hyatt and says the program helps him too. " Well, it's a really big benefit for us actually. I mean it's a constant teaching process for us, but it's also labor so there's a lot of benefit for us just out of productivity", says Gabel.

The work isn't easy. Although 1400 students have graduated from the program, Ficca says it's not for everybody. " This is hard work and we want them to do one of two things at the end of two weeks, either say this is great, I can do it, or no way. I don't want to be here."

Mike Rousselle is one of the people who found out he really enjoys the work. Rousselle graduated from the program seven years ago. " I was a construction worker that hurt my back and I had no training in anything else."

After he graduated, Rousselle was hired on by Hyatt. The hotel isn't under any obligation to hire graduates, but many do end up working there.

John Ficca says other graduates are able to use their Hyatt experience on a resume, and go on to work in other hotels, restaurants, hospitals or schools.

He says it's a job that is very forgiving and doesn't require a college degree but it is rewarding work to many who go through the program.

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