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Restaurant industry wins funding for developing an alternative labor pool

A federal grant of $4.5 million will be used by the NRAEF to prepare current and former prison inmates for restaurant jobs.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The restaurant industry notched a win this week in its recruitment struggles by securing a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to ease released prison inmates into foodservice jobs.  

The $4.5 million will be used by the educational arm of the National Restaurant Association to blaze a career path into the business for young people who have served time. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) will work with the U.S. Department of Corrections, local community groups and state restaurant associations to develop model training and job placement programs for the youngsters. The NRAEF has christened the initiative HOPES, for Hospitality Opportunities for People Entering Society.

The training will be provided during and after participating youngsters’ incarcerations. The NRAEF says it also intends to provide apprenticeships aimed at preparing the ex-offenders for management opportunities.  

The programs will be piloted in Boston, Chicago and Richmond and Hampton Roads, Va., where other NRAEF programs are in full force. Those efforts include Restaurant Ready, an initiative aimed at steering young people alienated from the workforce into restaurant jobs, and ProStart, a practical foodservice education track for teenagers who aren’t interested in a traditional high school experience.

The group says the $4.5 million grant is the biggest it has ever received. Smaller allotments from DOL were used several years ago to establish the NRAEF’s current apprenticeship program, which now boasts more than 1,000 enrollees.

“We are honored to be part of a national effort to create positive employment opportunities for young adults involved with the justice system,” said Rob Gifford, president of the NRAEF. “The program fits perfectly with our mission to attract, empower and advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant workforce and is an excellent way for anyone seeking to get back on track to becoming a productive and responsible member of society.”

The NRAEF notes that HOPES will help in easing societal problems as well as the industry’s recruitment efforts. The unemployment rate for ex-offenders is about 5 times the rate for the general population, says the Association, citing research from the Prison Policy Initiative. 

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