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New program aims to create more restaurant cooks

The NRAEF has won a grant to set up an on-the-job learning program, its second apprenticeship initiative.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) has been awarded a $450,000 grant from the private sector to ease restaurants’ shortage of cooks.

The funds will be used to create an apprenticeship program with twin purposes, both aimed at addressing the mismatch between the industry’s labor needs and the availability of personnel.  

By providing a clear route for hourly level workers to advance into one of the higher-skilled and better-compensated positions within a restaurant, the new program promises to hold more young people in the business instead of losing them to other industries abounding in entry-level positions.

The validity of that theory has been proven by the NRAEF’s successful apprenticeship program for turning crew-level employees into restaurant managers, which currently enjoys an enrollment of nearly 1,500 industry workers.

Second, the program promises to address the industry’s severe shortage of cooks. About 200,000 of the restaurant business’ 900,000 unfilled positions, or more than one-fifth of the vacancies, are cook jobs, according to the NRAEF.

Hiring back-of-house staffers has been particularly difficult because server jobs and other tipped positions tend to be much more lucrative, even if they require less technical skill than prepping and cooking.

“Developing a Registered Cook Apprenticeship program will allow us to expand apprenticeship and reach a larger and more diverse pool of entry-level talent,” NRAEF President Rob Gifford said in a statement. “This will lead to improved educational and employment opportunities for people from all backgrounds in the restaurant industry—it’s a win-win.”

The grant was awarded by the Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based group committed to creating post-high school educational opportunities of all types, particularly for persons of color and Native Americans.

The NRAEF was chosen for the grant from among 78 applicants. The Association was the only restaurant group among the nine parties that were awarded funding.

“We need to think in new ways about the recognition of learning after high school,” said Haley Glover, Lumina’s strategy director and leader of the grant program. “We must see that all college-level learning, regardless of how and where it is gained, can be applied toward meaningful post-high school credentials.”

Apprenticeships have drawn renewed attention in recent years as a way of fostering careers without burdening young adults with the high cost of attending college. The approach usually provides participants with the opportunity to earn an income while they amass the skills for advancement.

The NRAEF has been on the forefront of the movement. Using pilot funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the group launched its management apprenticeship program in July 2017. In addition to steering crew-level restaurant employees toward management jobs,  the initiative convinced 94% of enrollees to remain with their employers, Gifford told Restaurant Business in December.

The NRAEF is the educational affiliate of the National Restaurant Association.

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