Young engineer makes history at Sandals Resorts
In 2016, Joel Dunn graduated from The University of the West Indies with a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering and set out on the management trainee journey at Sandals Resorts International. He did it with one goal in mind – to become a chief engineer within five years.
It was quite the ambitious goal as chief engineers, especially within the Sandals chain, typically have at least 10 years’ experience in the field. Dunn, however, was steadfast, and after almost five years with the Sandals Group, the young engineer achieved his goal. He was recently appointed chief engineer at Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort and Private Island, the 232-room resort which is also home to the highly sought-after Over-The-Water Suites.
Dunn, now 27 years old, is the youngest chief engineer in the company’s 40-year history and is the first graduate of the company’s Management Trainee Programme (MTP) to hold the post of chief engineer.
In real-world terms, Dunn’s promotion has indeed happened in record time, but it’s a dream that has long been in the making for the Ardenne High past student. “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer,” he said. “I’ve always had a knack for working with electronic and mechanical equipment, which resulted in me developing a great intuition and technical skills that would often see me becoming more advanced than my peers and contemporaries.”
The MTP for engineers is a robust three-year training programme which prepares both new hires and existing team members for exciting management and leadership roles in the company. Management trainees are exposed to strategic hands-on training through rotations in various departments at the company’s resorts in seven islands in the Caribbean. At the end of the training, successful candidates are placed in management roles.
Armed with his newly earned degree, Dunn applied for the programme in 2016 because he wanted to gain first-hand engineering experience with a world-renowned company. He shared, “Despite having numerous job offers at the time, choosing Sandals wasn’t a complicated decision. Additionally, Sandals afforded me tremendous room for growth and the opportunity to travel and experience different cultures in the workplace. Ultimately, these factors weighed heavily in my decision.”
His management trainee experience took him to several resorts across the region, including Sandals Royal Barbados, Sandals Grenada, Sandals Royal Plantation and Sandals Negril, where he served in various roles, cross-trained in several departments and benefited from a fully immersive learning experience. Of his journey in the programme, Dunn said, “The Management Trainee Programme afforded me experiences that were at two extreme ends of the spectrum. On one hand, I gained extensive exposure, with a wealth of knowledge in all aspects of hospitality, a strong attribute for personal development and which definitely enhanced my technical expertise. On the other hand, the experience was also fast-paced, and filled with hard work, uncertainties and exhaustion. This helped mould my skills in time management, organisation, dependability, communication and interpersonal interactions – all positive traits of an effective leader.”
After successfully graduating from the programme, Dunn was appointed junior assistant engineer at Sandals Ochi Beach Resort in 2019, a role he held for just over a year, before being promoted to acting chief engineer at Sandals Grenada. Upon his return to Jamaica, he was appointed chief engineer at Sandals Royal Caribbean.
As chief engineer, Dunn is responsible for managing, maintaining and protecting the resort’s equipment and machinery and the general maintenance of the physical plant. He added, “I also manage contract services and maintenance records, and oversee the financials and budget of the department. Finally, I ensure the satisfaction of my team members and guests.”
Of his experience with the company thus far, Dunn said, “The engineering experience at Sandals has provided the dream start to my career. It has given me exposure to a variety of disciplines, including electrical, HVAC, mechanical and construction, among others. This has allowed me to become multifaceted in all aspects throughout my career development.”
Commenting on Dunn’s exceptional journey through the training programme, Sandals Resorts International’s Group Manager, Human Resources, Heather McDonald, said, “Joel was always eager to understand and learn more. He was never daunted by the task ahead, he knew there would be challenges. However, from the get-go he was committed to the process. This was further emphasised with his declaration in orientation that he would be the first chief engineer hired from the Management Trainee Programme.”
Brian Rafferty, Sandals’ group director of engineering who hand-picked Dunn for the role of chief engineer said, “When I first asked to meet the group who had just completed the course, it was clear that we had a room full of clever young men and women who were keen to continue their journey with Sandals. However, Joel stood out.”
He continued, “Although quiet, he absorbs everything, processes the information and then formulates a plan on how to implement. I knew after just a few interactions with him that he would be the first chief engineer from this programme. He willingly travelled to Grenada when our then chief engineer relocated, and upon completion of his assignment, the general manager called to ask if he could keep him in Grenada, but I had other plans for him. When the vacancy became available at Sandals Royal Caribbean, I had no hesitation placing Joel in this position and he has lived up to my expectations. I expect to see him grow and develop his skills and possibly one day lead the entire Engineering Division at Sandals.”
For Dunn, achieving his long-held goal of becoming a chief engineer is proof that with hard work and determination, nothing is impossible. “It was always my main objective since joining the [MTP] programme to become a chief engineer within five years, and with great belief, focus, hard work and discipline, I was able to make that a reality. The feeling is indescribable, nothing else can compare. It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said.
Always the dreamer, Dunn has now set his sights on a new goal – securing a regional role at the company’s corporate headquarters in the next five years. And, with his stellar track record of excellence and the continued support of his team and the company at large, there is no doubt that this goal is well within his reach.