The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) has promoted Rob Gifford to president, citing his efforts to counter the industry’s labor crunch by easing more young people into restaurant careers.
“Rob’s passion and dedication for cultivating the next generation of restaurant leaders is unparalleled,” said Dawn Sweeney, CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “This promotion reflects Rob’s commitment to excellence and his contributions to the ongoing success of the industry.”
The NRAEF is the educational arm of the restaurant association. Gifford previously served as EVP of the group.
During his time in that role, the NRAEF’s highly successful ProStart program expanded by 50%, with 150,000 high school juniors and seniors now enrolled in the initiative. ProStart provides an alternative educational choice for youngsters who aren’t engaged by a traditional high school curriculum. It prepares the teenagers for a management or culinary career in foodservice through a combination of classroom instruction and practical experience. The participants can either enter the industry immediately after graduation or continue their foodservice education through college-level culinary or hospitality management programs.
ProStart has won praise from educators and parents, who acknowledge that the participating students might have dropped or failed out of high school otherwise. It has also set a number of young people on a career path they may never have considered otherwise.
Gifford has also been a force behind the NRAEF’s new apprenticeship program, which provides hourly level restaurant employees with a way of rising into management positions within their organizations. It, too, combines classroom and practical instruction, all tailored to the specific needs of the participants’ current employers. Funding is provided by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. About 1,000 crewmembers are currently enrolled in the program, including 250 future managers of Chili’s Grill & Bar.
Other programs that have been overseen by Gifford include Restaurant Ready, a community outreach program underway in six U.S. cities to provide employment opportunities to disaffected young people who are neither studying nor currently active in the workforce; and training partnerships with all major branches of the armed forces.
Gifford has spent much of his career working for the National Restaurant Association and its affiliates. Previous to heading up the NRAEF, he served as EVP of political advocacy for the main Association. He was president of the Michigan Restaurant Association for 18 years, and earlier worked in the parent association’s political affairs operation in Washington, D.C.