Few things in this world compare to seeing young adults passionate about their futures. So when I had the honor to attend the recent National ProStart Invitational, the country’s premier secondary school competition focusing on restaurant management and culinary arts in Providence, RI, I was once again overwhelmed by the excitement I saw in the faces of America’s future restaurant leaders. Nearly 400 student competitors put their skills to the test, cooking delicious three-course meals and presenting business pitches in front of industry leaders, with hopes of earning more than $200,000 in scholarships from leading culinary and restaurant management programs.
As the backbone of America’s workforce, restaurants already employ approximately 15 million people from all walks of life and backgrounds in every local community. We want to expand that opportunity to others and help teach more people – like the 500,000 ProStart students who have participated in the program – the fundamental skills and values needed to be successful in life and in any career, such as a strong work ethic, personal responsibility, and how to serve others. That is why we want everyone to know that restaurants are open for business and committed to helping millions of people achieve a brighter future.
Since 2007, I have had the privilege to lead the organization that advocates on behalf of America’s restaurant industry, and I speak with restaurant operators on a daily basis about their struggles with this issue. This is prevalent in restaurants of all sizes and in every state. These workforce shortages are especially troubling for our industry because we believe people are our greatest asset and remain central to shaping the dining experience of our guests. With that said, the National Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), along with our State Restaurant Association partners, have taken proactive steps to address our industry’s concerns for years through ProStart, a program that encourages experiential learning and career exploration to develop our next generation of restaurant and foodservice leaders.
ProStart is a national career and technical education program that allows high school students to explore and learn about culinary arts and restaurant management skills. Based on competencies identified by industry experts, the two-year Career and Technical Education program provides training and industry connections. These young adults must pass two national exams and complete 400 hours of mentored practical work experience before they receive the ProStart National Certificate of Achievement. Nationwide, the program reaches nearly 140,000 students in over 1,800 schools with programs in all 50 states, as well as Guam and Department of Defense Education Activity Schools.
The ProStart program guides and prepares students to successfully make the transition from school into adulthood. A blend of classroom instruction and hands-on learning means every ProStart graduate has a set of practical and useful skills that make them highly competitive job applicants. Additionally, many of them will already have a proven track-record of work experience that prospective employers can reference. ProStart students are highly qualified and trained employees ready to advance in the workforce or advance in post secondary education. ProStart graduates also earn credit in our registered restaurant manager apprenticeship program.
We are expanding our apprenticeship program to increase recruitment and retention of qualified employees. I feel especially honored to have served on the White House Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, which is comprised of a group of 20 national leaders appointed by the President to recommend strategies to grow the number of apprenticeship programs in the United States.
We partnered with the American Hotel & Lodging Association to launch the nation’s first-ever Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship program last year, and we expect to register more than 1,000 apprentices at leading hotel and restaurant companies by the end of 2018.
Both the ProStart and Apprenticeship programs will help alleviate our industry’s workforce shortage crisis, and provide a pathway to meaningful and rewarding careers that provide a low cost alternative to continuing education.
Restaurants are woven into the fabric and essence of America. Each day, millions of Americans choose restaurants as the centerpiece for the most special moments of their lives. When restaurants succeed, guests, employees and local communities succeed. For this to continue, restaurants must be able to recruit talented and skilled individuals, which is why we will continue to focus on developing new programs that attract, empower and advance a skilled and passionate workforce across America for generations to come.
To learn more about the NRAEF’s programs and resources, visit ChooseRestaurants.org.
Dawn Sweeney is the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.