Viewpoint: Modernizing apprenticeship in the restaurant industry

Carrie LeishmanBy Carrie Leishman

When one thinks of apprenticeship, images of craftsman huddled over a tool bench during the 17th century come to mind, or more currently of blue-collar laborers in the traditional “trades” earning non-professional wages. As parents we shunned these careers and pushed our children into expensive colleges with the hope of higher success.

The millennial dilemma of skyrocketing student debt, alongside a generation of college graduates with no real career-ready skills headlines our news feeds —as companies nationwide are lamenting a lack of skilled workers and dismal employee retention amidst a historically low unemployment rate our country has not experienced in decades.

According to The National Skills Coalition, middle-skills jobs account for the majority (51%) of Delaware’s labor market but fewer than half of Delawareans (43%) are actually trained or educated to meet the growing demand. Middle-skills jobs require advanced education beyond high school but not a four-year degree and those invested in workforce development are turning toward professional apprenticeship as the next generation of education and training.

In an exciting and first nationwide partnership between the Delaware Restaurant Association and the Delaware Department of labor, a new, fully registered professional culinary apprenticeship (DECAP) has been created based on the model ProStart educational program in Delaware’s high schools and Delaware Department of Education’s model “Pathways to Prosperity” culinary and hospitality management initiative.

Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts has been chosen to pilot the inaugural two-year program which combines 4,300 hours of on-the-job training with classroom training for eight apprentices.

Dollar for dollar, no workforce training method packs as much punch as apprenticeship. Every dollar invested in apprenticeship programs brings a $27 dollar return on investment. This earn-while-you-learn model leads individuals directly to mastery of trade without the burden of high tuition fees and student loan debt.

Apprenticeship is key to addressing youth unemployment, widening income disparities and the shrinking of the middle class. It connects apprentices to their employers and their communities as nine out of ten are still employed immediately upon finishing their training at an average starting salary of almost $50,000 a year. Those individuals who complete apprenticeships earn on average $300,000 more over the course of a career than peers who did not participate in these programs.

Delaware’s 2,000 restaurants and food-service establishments currently employ one in 10 or nearly 50,000 people — highlighting the need for a workforce program that can offer a pipeline of highly trained people. Over the next five years, the industry is expected to grow 9.4% offering jobs for almost 5,000 more individuals. Apprenticeship will advance small business growth and fuel economic mobility for a diverse group of Delawareans leading to middle-wage jobs while laying a foundation for management and entrepreneurship opportunity.

The exciting news is that this model can be scaled for other professional careers. This is a great blueprint for public/private partnerships that work to better all Delawareans.

Carrie Leishman is president and CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association.

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