Originally from Hawaii, Kimo Kippen rose through the ranks of the hospitality industry, beginning as a busboy to a corporate learning executive for the world’s largest hospitality companies. Because of that experience, he also understands that the backbone of every business–no matter how big or small–is its employees. For the past 20 years, Kimo has been on a lifetime journey to advance lifelong learning, global labor force conditions, and economic empowerment.
Through his work as Chief Learning Officer at Hilton Worldwide, Kimo focused on developing a culture of learning and development as a way to improve employee retention and guest satisfaction. Insights & Outlooks interviewed Kimo to get his perspective on what employers need from higher education and workforce development and reimagining the role of employers in supporting lifelong learning for today’s students.
Insights & Outlooks: Could just share with us your experience and some of your most recent roles and what brings you into this conversation?
Kimo Kippen: My background has really been very focused on the hospitality industry. I started as a busboy in Hawaii, went to college at the mainland and then went back to Hawaii where I put myself through graduate school to obtain my master’s degree by working in the hospitality industry. I found my passion in the learning space through work in hospitality and my experiences with serving people. I’ve worked at both Marriott International and at Hilton Worldwide, and at both companies I have held executive-level responsibility for learning and development.
Insights & Outlooks: What have been some of the insights that you have gained in terms of what it is, at least in the industry that you work in, that employers really need or want from our education and training systems that they have trouble getting?
Kimo Kippen: Ultimately, what the corporate space is looking for from K-12, higher education, and vocational education is people who are ready to take on jobs and actual roles. But there remains a gap in what’s delivered and what’s expected. In many ways, this has been positive for the corporate space because they have had to train people the way that they want them trained and this pressure has resulted in many cases for an appreciation for learning and a more engagement company culture.
Insights & Outlooks: What were some of the approaches for reskilling adults with some college or a degree or with an associate’s degree and needing further education beyond that, what were some of the approaches that you found to be effective?
On the job learning is such a critical piece of how we offer training opportunities to people. But really, the experience starts pre-employment. Talented people want to have a clear understanding of the company’s purpose, mission, vision, and values, and determine fit. If there is a connection then we can talk about why the role is important, how the work matters in relation to the bigger picture, and the skills that are needed to make the greatest impact.
Cross-functional in hospitality is a great example of how employees can gain an understanding and appreciation of the business and industry not just for their own roles but for those around them. This type of training builds culture, respect, and agility. All of those learning experiences become part of the employment journey and lead to bigger and better opportunities.
Insights & Outlooks: what originally inspired you to get started or continue in on the career trajectory that you’ve had, and yes, what inspires you to keep going?
Kimo Kippen:Being from Hawaii is an important part of my journey. I’m blessed to come from a part of the world where people thirst for experience, a place that people call paradise and that I call my home. I want to share that and I think the greatest gift that we can give anyone is just to be of service. Couple that with my love of education which started when I was six or seven. I was very curious, I was teachable; and I loved to share knowledge. I’ve been teaching for the last 15 years in a master’s program in universities and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to help students, help people, to achieve their dreams.
Now I am in a place where I feel the need to pay it forward, particularly those who may suffer from disadvantages and the issues around equity. I just know that learning and education can change the entire flight path for any one person but, more importantly, it can change the flight path for that family and for generations to come.