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New training effort targets ex-offenders, disengaged youths

Under a new Chicago initiative, those populations will be given the skills needed to pursue careers in restaurants.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurants in the Chicago area have joined forces with several industry-related groups to prepare ex-offenders and other locals alienated from the workforce for possible jobs in foodservice. 

The program was one of several highlighted at the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention in Chicago as an alternate way of enlarging the industry’s labor and management pools.

The local collaborators pledged to provide the formerly incarcerated and young people currently disconnected from the workforce with the skills needed to pursue restaurant careers. In addition to local restaurants, the community-level participants include The Hatchery, a Chicago business incubator focused on the food and beverage business; the Safer Foundation, a nonprofit committed to providing support to individuals with criminal records; and the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, a nonprofit with the mission of enlarging the restaurant industry’s labor pool.

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) is providing coordination and other support through its Restaurant Ready program, an initiative aimed at positioning the restaurant business as a career avenue for the 5 million young people aged 16 to 24 who are neither working nor in school. Three out of 4 of those individuals are seeking a better life through employment, according to research cited by the NRAEF. That prime target of Restaurant Ready is known within the education and training community as “opportunity youth.”

To reach out to opportunity youth, the Restaurant Ready program will be initiated at The Hatchery, the NRAEF said. 

The association will then work with the Safer Foundation to prepare ex-offenders for restaurant careers, the group said.

“The community collaborative presents an incredible opportunity to grow the work of the Foundation to serve the local community in Chicago,” Rob Gifford, EVP of the NRAEF, said in a statement.

The effort also brings Restaurant Ready to Chicago for the first time. The program is currently underway in Salinas, Calif.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Dallas; New Orleans; and Washington, D.C.

Funding for the community collaboration is being provided by PepsiCo.

The program was announced Monday at the National Restaurant Association’s annual mega-gathering. Earlier, the association launched a program called ServSuccess, which is intended to keep people within the industry by providing a clear career ladder, complete with certificates attesting to individuals’ mastery of certain skill sets.

In addition, the NRAEF spotlighted the first graduates of its new internship program, an effort intended to ease restaurant workers’ transition into management jobs.

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