Bucking the trend
Mohawk casino launches programs to recruit more Native employees
AKWESASNE, N.Y. - Attempting to distance itself from a national trend, the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino is creating programs, internships and generating other ideas to recruit more Native employees.
''This was something our general manager thought we really needed to focus on,'' said Emily Lauzon, director of education and recruitment.
The casino is owned by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.
Prior to the creation of Lauzon's position, a year and a half ago the tribally owned casino fell just slightly short of the national average for Native employment at Native-owned casinos. Since then, through the implementation of internships and other programs, the AMC is now above the national average.
''It [Native employment at the casino] was 23 percent before these programs and now we're at 27 percent,'' she said. ''The national average is 25 percent.''
Dianna Tarbell, the AMC's general manager, said, ''Having our own tribal members employed in greater numbers at the casino has always been the goal.''
Lauzon's largest recruitment strategy has been an internship program. Last summer, 11 students were given paid internships in various areas of the casino, from food and beverage to human resources.
''The internship program is a 'grow our own' initiative that provides professional development opportunities to tribal members,'' Tarbell said. ''The casino's objective is to bring job opportunities to Mohawks here in our community, as well as the benefits that would come with gaming revenues.''
Lauzon said many people don't have a true understanding of how many different types of jobs are needed and available at the casino. They think their only option is to be a dealer, she said.
The internship program's purpose is to ''get them in to see all the opportunities that are in the casino,'' Lauzon said.
Lauzon met with each intern and found appropriate placements for them in areas apt to their goals and interests. A student who expressed interest in nutritional science was placed in the food and beverage department; an intern who was studying business management was placed in the finance department. One student, after working in the casino's facilities department, realized that he had been focusing on the wrong career in school.
''I just think that it's working,'' Lauzon said of the internship program. ''We're always telling our kids to go out and get an education and we just need to make sure there are opportunities for them with at home.''
The students who completed the internship last summer were invited to come back to the casino during their school breaks, to work part-time.
Lauzon said many of Akwesasne's young people go to college but do not apply for positions at the casino when they've completed their education. She could not offer a definite reason for this trend.
''That's the reason I'm trying to get them to look at our casino while they're in college,'' she said.
This summer, 15 more students will be selected to participate in the internship program.
While the interns are required to undergo a background check and the normal pre-hiring procedures (which takes a few weeks), Lauzon has developed a second opportunity for Native community members to learn more about the casino.
The Casino Operations Program will give interested community members an overview of all the casino's departments without actually hiring them and putting them through that lengthy process.
Lauzon taught a similar class at a local school last year, and decided to make the course something that all community members could take advantage of, not just students.
''There are quite a few people out there who are looking for change,'' Lauzon said. ''It's best that we give them a big overview of what gaming is about.''
Participants will be in an education setting, where they will learn from a textbook but also have hands-on training from casino employees. They'll learn the ins and outs of business finance, but also learn how to deal blackjack, for instance.
The hope is that the course will give community members the information they need to decide if a casino career is for them.
There are a number of reasons why Akwesasne residents aren't applying for casino jobs in large numbers, including the influx of cigarette factories in the area.
''Some of our residents have preference to working in the manufacturing plants, as they can be quickly hired,'' Lauzon said.
Also contributing to hesitation from job-seekers at the casino is the long hiring procedure, which can take anywhere from three to eight weeks.
''People don't want to wait that long to find out if they have a job,'' Lauzon said.
Tarbell added, ''We recognize that gaining clearance to work at the casino can be long and cumbersome and that turns some people away, but it's a necessary part of the process. We try to offset that inconvenience by assisting each individual with the application process.''
To further assist Natives in becoming employees of the casino, Lauzon meets with every Native job applicant, gives them a tour of the casino and speaks with them about what they should expect at their upcoming interview. She does what she can to ensure the Native applicant is as prepared and educated as possible.
''Certainly we want jobs for our own, and importantly, opportunities for advancement,'' Tarbell said. ''As the casino expands, there will be more opportunities, and varied ones, that we hope tribal members will take advantage of.''