Inn staff adds new
skills to résumés
By Jesse Phelps
When Georgia Deutsch heard about
an opportunity to become trained in a new skill or two, she jumped
at the opportunity. Normally a flower arranger for the Ojai Valley
Inn & Spa, Deutsch has spent the last couple of months learning
how to rewire, tile and frame as the world famous resort revamps
164 rooms in its largest expansion and remodel ever.
Deutsch is one of 160 employees at the Ojai Valley Inn &
Spa who has put her regular duties on hold and taken a large
hand in the remodel project. Merrill Williams, who handles public
relations for the inn, said that the company's directors made
a conscious choice to offer skill training to its current employees,
rather than hiring outsiders and forcing workers to find new
jobs in the interim.
With the losses in transient occupancy taxes for the city, Williams
said, the inn's directors wanted to find ways to minimize other
"Certainly, with pulling
rooms out of inventory, we and the city understood that the bed
tax, of course, would be impacted," she said. "But
we were mindful of keeping as many employees on the payroll as
we possibly could. It was a very creative decision for top management
to do this program."
Brian Skaggs, director of engineering at the hotel, has taken
on the job as project manager of the remodel. He said, "We
basically have a had 160 different employees that have rotated
through this project. It's a lot of retraining and fortunately
it worked. It succeeded beyond all our expectations."
Skaggs said his crew is "exceeding the pace of some contractors.
We're actually a couple of weeks ahead of schedule."
One of his prime movers, he said, is Deutsch, a 53-year old long-time
resident of Ojai who has gone from flower designer to electrical
"Georgia's been one of the all-stars of the crew,"
said Skaggs. "She started off in our horticulture department
doing flowers. She's very artistic that way. When she got into
the program, she made it clear she wanted to be retrained in
every program that we have, carpentry, electrical, cable, drywall,
tile, what-have-you. Whatever she's done, she's always just excelled
And, said Deutsch, she couldn't be happier with the opportunity.
"This has been incredible," she said. "I love
this. This has given me the opportunity to learn something I
never thought I would learn. I can take it and use it in my house."
She said that, at first, she wasn't so sure about playing with
wires. "I was afraid," Deutsch admitted. "I talked
to Brian and he said, 'We'll put you in electrical' and I said,
'I don't know, I'm afraid of electricity.'"
But that changed once she started training. "Now I understand
it and it's pretty cool," said Deutsch. "We work seven
hours a day. And on the weekend, I still do art classes at the
She likes her new work so much, said she isn't sure whether she
even wants to return to her flowers when the expansion project
is complete. "I've also done tiling, which I also enjoy,"
she said. "Me, I just want to learn it all. I'm just open
Hector Zepeda is another employee who has undergone retraining.
Normally, he works in room service but now he is one of Skaggs'
carpentry leaders. Zepeda has two little girls at home and said
he loves Ojai and didn't want to leave when the expansion started.
He said he had minimal carpentry experience before but that the
remodel has allowed him to rediscover and expand that skill.
"Now I learn a little bit more. I like it very much, I love
it," said Zepeda. And the best part is, he gets to stay
in his adopted hometown until his regular job comes back.
Williams pointed to several benefits reaped by ojai from the
the inn's decision to keep its employees on hand. "The program
has kept 150 people living in Ojai, on the payroll, staying part
of the community, shopping in town, sending their kids to school,"
she said. "And they didn't want to leave, they didn't want
to uproot their families and go looking for work. So, this was
a very happy solution for everybody."
Skaggs agreed and said another benefit is the pride the employees
are taking in their new duties. "They're completely showing
up and I think it shows in the morale too," he said. "They're
really taking pride of ownership. I think we'll probably get
a lot more calls from people saying, 'Hey, this paint needs to
be touched up here. That's not how I left it.'"
Deutsch said she'll value the training she received long after
the remodel is complete. She said graduated from the Art Center
College of Design before her kids were born. Now, she'll be able
to integrate those skills with the ones she's just learned.
"I have the other side, where I used to draw this stuff,"
said Deutsch. "Now I can actually put it together. If I
ever wanted to add on to my house, I could design it, draw it
up and maybe someday build it."
The Ojai Valley News
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