CULINARY CAREER PATHWAYS
It’s the right thing for the industry
Restaurants tend to be segregated, with deep divisions along class, race, ethnic, and gender lines. Historically, most people of color are trapped in entry-level positions. Data from the 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that low level, hourly positions such as dishwasher, prep cook, and busser are filled nationwide by minority workers 40 – 58% of the time-but managerial and professional salaried positions of chef and restaurant manager or highly tipped waiter or bartending roles are filled by Caucasians 75 – 85% of the time. There has clearly not been a widespread, employer supported upward ladder for people of color in the food industry. The goal of this initiative is to develop a culinary training that results in a local, educated culinary workforce that meets demonstrated employer needs. This training is envisioned as an on-ramp to higher-paying jobs for culinary workers-often people of color and women-who are mired at low-end jobs but who want to grow in the culinary field.
Culinary employers in Greater Hartford are reporting a serious labor shortage for higher-level positions at a line cook level and above. In the service sector of the business, owners and managers are looking for experienced servers, bartenders, hosts, and assistant managers. Because labor is highly mobile in food service, managers are constantly hiring. There are clearly delineated industry paths towards becoming a chef or a front of the house manager that are often closed to our city residents because of either the schooling required or an inherent racial or class bias within the culinary industry. Almost ten percent of America’s workforce is engaged in the culinary field. The industry provides a ladder to engaged employees towards middle-income careers if they can access the training needed. This training does not require an advanced degree and the skills needed are highly transferable within the industry. The extreme labor shortage in the trade provides a unique opportunity to engage with employers who are struggling to fill openings at their businesses. The investment in training is also an investment in a sector that is an economic driver for our region.
Forge City Works has been the driving force behind creating job training in the culinary sector, a field where there are well-established pathways to mid-level jobs that do not require higher education.This is particulary true in Hartford, a city with numerous corporate cafeterias and middle level jobs but no real organized onboarding into those positions. The culinary sector has the potential to contribute to reducing inequities, but work remains to be done. We plan the development of a higher level training that will move individuals more quickly to middle-wage positions. This would grow the scale and impact of our work by engaging other employers in publicly supported career training which would directly onboard partcipants, including re-entry participants, into jobs leading to permanent careers. Our current adult and Opportunity Youth training programs very successfully onboard graduates into entry level positions but are limited in scope based on our physical capacity. We were succesful in receiving public funding for culinary training, and have tripled the number of people in our culinary programs. However, for larger scale progress, culinary needs formal designation as an official career pathway, engaging partners and mirroring the sector-wide partnerships existing in the manufacturing and allied health fields. We need to make sure that we collect the right data to meaningfuly measure individuals’ outcomes. Planning for this third training level has already begun in partnership with the Connecticut Restaurant Association and Capital Workforce Partners and should result in public support for long-term sustainability.