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Serving up success at the Tsuut’ina Nation

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Challenge – Skilled employees for today’s economic sectors

The Tsuut’ina Nation adjoins the southwestern city limit of Calgary, Alberta, and successfully balances its traditional culture and lifestyle with increased activity in modern economic sectors. The opening of the Grey Eagle Casino in 2007, and expansion to include a 2,600-seat event centre and four-star hotel in 2014, is an example of that success.

The Tsuut’ina Training and Development Institute builds training programs for nation members who want to develop new skills and gain employment close to home.

“I was asked to align our available human resources with this economic development initiative,” says Delphine Pipestem, director of the institute. “So, I started researching what kinds of jobs there are in a hotel – from concierge up to management.”

Kevin Yates, hotel general manager at Grey Eagle, commends the nation on its forward-thinking initiative to train skilled workers. “More training means people will be more successful, no matter what business they are involved in on the nation,” he says.

Solution – Customized training for Tsuut’ina members

To facilitate the development of employees for the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino, Pipestem investigated hospitality and tourism programs, and eventually engaged the Corporate Training Solutions team at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).

Together with SAIT, she developed two customized programs for Tsuut’ina members. “I told them what we needed in terms of basic knowledge and skills,” says Pipestem. This resulted in a 13-course, Foundations for Hospitality Management training program that was delivered jointly at SAIT and on the Tsuut’ina Nation. “That was a first in Canada,” says Pipestem.

Next, she worked with SAIT to develop an accredited training program based on curriculum from SAIT’s Hospitality Management diploma. “We went through the various courses a person would take to earn the two-year diploma, and pulled out a total of 11 courses in subjects such as human resources, accounting and event management,” says Pipestem. “They earned a certificate of achievement.”

Anthony Mendoza, front office manager at the Grey Eagle hotel, says the Tsuut’ina training initiative was essential to both the success of Grey Eagle and its employees. “You need confidence and knowledge when you’re engaging with guests. This program made sure employees were experienced and knew what it would be like once they had a position here.”

Result – Promotion-worthy hotel employees

Colleen Dodginghorse, one of 20 hospitality certificate graduates, says having the SAIT credential has advanced her career. “When I heard they were going to build a hotel, I wanted to prepare to work there, be a part of the opening and be involved in it,” she says. Having worked as an administrator with the Tsuut’ina Nation, Dodginghorse was aware it would be a change: “I knew if I had the right qualifications, though, I could work my way up.”

It had been years since Dodginghorse attended the University of Lethbridge, so she dove in and dedicated herself to her studies - and her classmates. In addition to her SAIT certification, Dodginghorse received an “Award of Merit” from her fellow students at their graduation. “This is my greatest achievement of all. It was presented to me for showing honour, commitment, courage, generosity and for representing the values of the Tsuut’ina Nation while I completed my SAIT hospitality training.”

Dodginghorse was hired as a reservation agent when the hotel opened. It wasn’t long before she was promoted to hotel ambassador and earned a supervisory role. “One of my strong points is that I am very good with people,” she says. “Meeting VIPs from all over the world is very exciting for me. When I met Diana Ross she was very interested in the Tsuut’ina people.” Ross and her daughter performed at Grey Eagle in July 2016.

“Our international guests want to learn about Canada’s indigenous people,” says Yates. “They come here, see these individuals working here and enjoy asking them questions. That differentiates us from our competition.”

In addition to her role as ambassador, Dodginghorse oversees 15 reservations, guest services and front desk employees. “My SAIT training was all hands-on and included the different areas of study I needed to be able to do my job well.”

Mendoza agrees: “If they are SAIT graduates, and they want to work here, they are exactly what we’re looking for.”