Local schools step up to train restaurant workers

By Roger Morris
Special to Delaware Business Times

As Delaware employers in the hospitality industry struggle to find trained staff, programs to alleviate the shortage have cropped up across the state. These range from training part-time teenage workers to turning out professionals at the graduate-school level.

“We have hired and continue to recruit employees from several programs,” said Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Savoy Grill and Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal House and former chairman of the National Restaurant Association.

Almost 41,000 people in Delaware are employed in food service, or almost one in 10 of all workers in the state, according to federal statistics. There are nearly 2,000 restaurants in the state, in addition to other food-related services.

One of the largest training programs is the Delaware Restaurant Association ProStart program. A total of 18 high schools in Delaware participate in the two-year certificate program, which provides students with classroom education combined with 400 hours of paid work experience.

“The ProStart program has been in existence for five years and involves 33 high school educators,” said Raelynn Grogan, program coordinator. “I think all of our member restaurants have used it at some time.” Working arrangements range from internships, cooperative programs and part-time employment for the students.

Students are trained to become bakers, chefs, cooks, food prep workers, food stylists, pastry chefs and sanitation consultants, among other job opportunities.

Educational competitions are also a large part of training, Grogran said. Dover High School culinary students won first place at the Delaware ProStart Student Invitational and subsequently competed at the National ProStart Student Invitational at the end of April in Providence, RI, along with teams from the other 49 states.

Delaware Technical Community College, the University of Delaware and Delaware State University each offer career tracks in the hospitality industry. Delaware Tech has certificate programs in six hospitality areas: baking and pastry skills, cooking, food safety, food service, hospitality and cooking skills.

Delaware State offers bachelor’s degree programs in food science, hospitality, tourism management and in casino operations.

The University of Delaware’s Department of Hospitality Management is a part of the university’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and is ranked fourth by collegefactual.com out of 117 U.S. schools. A variety of career options are offered through both undergraduate and graduate programs.

“We have about 400 students, and over 95 percent have jobs already lined up at graduation, practically everyone who is looking for immediate employment,” said Dr. Zvi Schwartz, who heads up the hospitality program. Schwartz noted that the program may expand into real estate management and look into cooperative programs with other universities.

“Asset management is becoming very big in the hospitality industry,” he said. “We are also moving more and more into the field of analytics and big data offerings.”

How could these student programs be improved?

“We all understand that the students need basic soft skills and interviewing skills,” said Nicole Stepaniak, director of human resources for Harry’s Hospitality Group. “The instructors I’ve spoken with are very aware of this and are incorporating this into their classrooms.”

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