Investing in the future seems a popular topic these days. And although it’s become difficult in some industries, foodservice operators are finding ways to invest in their own well-being by participating in mentoring programs. Instead of focusing on mentoring their own staff, many directors are reaching out to students and other workers who are just getting their start in the job market because they are confident that these workers are the future of foodservice.
Student programs: One of the most common ways non-commercial operations mentor these workers is with student management programs at colleges and universities.
At 25,000-student Washington State University in Pullman, a comprehensive student management program helps mentor possible future foodservice employees. Gary Coyle, director of dining services, says his department assigns managers to visit various classes to teach students about becoming a supervisor/manager of student employees.
“We do this each spring when we need to hire new student managers for the following year,” Coyle says. “We set up a training opportunity for student employees that want to become student managers, and they go through training here and then next year they’ll be able to work as a manager.”
Coyle says the university also has a mentorship program in which faculty and staff volunteers are paired with individuals on campus.
“One of the key things in dining services is working with people,” Coyle says. “Whether you apply those skills in foodservices or any other field, its just a key part of our business. Mentoring these students so they develop those skill sets helps them when they graduate. They can put on their resume that they are able to work and manage people.”
At 27,000-student University of Kentucky in Lexington, Scott Henry, acting director of dining services, says his university also uses a student management program. His student managers supervise both full-time and student staff members.
“Student workers are such a large part of our workforce that we always encourage them to apply for full-time employment with us,” Henry says. “The ultimate aim is for them to learn and develop management, critical thinking and problem solving skills.”
Henry says he is also interested in getting involved in a program called experimental education. This program is set up so students can receive college credit for working with the department.
“I would write a syllabus detailing what the student would do during the course of a semester, outline goals, etc.,” Henry says. “I would like to have this in place by August. I have not met with representatives from the experimental education department yet, but I want to follow all avenues that I can to increase our student workforce. I think that students will have a better chance of landing a good job if they can demonstrate real experience in their field. Management, problem solving and analytical skills are all valuable assets that an employer will look for.”
Another opportunity for students who are eager to learn about non-commerical operations exists at ACTS Retirement Life Communities, which runs 19 CCRCs with more than 8,100 residents in six states. Michael Smith, corporate director of public relations, says students, ranging in age from 14 to 21, serve evening meals in the communities’ main dining rooms.
“They take orders just like a server in a restaurant,” Smith says. “They receive an hourly wage as well as a scholarship voucher, where they can earn about $1,000 per year they work with us that can go toward tuition at any university. Many of them start working as freshmen and continue working into their college years.”
Smith says for many of the students, the program is their first taste of the working world.
“They form these great bonds with the residents, but they also learn about the culinary world and what it’s like to be a chef in a retirement community, a position that is only going to become more prevalent.” Smith says. “We’ve always seen it as a win-win situation, not only for residents but also for the students. Servers develop a new understanding and respect for the older generation and, for us, it helps us recruit and even retain workers in an industry that traditionally has such a high turnover rate.”
Helping hands: At 235-bed Kingman Regional Medical Center in Kingman, Ariz., Robin Rush, director of nutrition services, says her department participates in several mentoring programs that are organized through local organizations such the Mohave County Workforce Development board, which coordinates the Coyote Youth Program. The Coyote program brings in disadvantaged youth to learn skills. Rush says her department takes these kids and trains them how to do a job, be it washing dishes or cleaning floors.
“Generally we get people who are somewhat disadvantaged that need help learning work skills,” Rush says. “The programs pay for them to work with us for about three to six weeks. It’s win-win for us because we don’t pay for their training dollars and if they’re fantastic then we keep them. If we can help them transition from either unemployment or just simple lack of skills, we are happy to help.”
In addition, Rush says she is always trying to be a mentor to her staff. She does this in several ways, most notably with her candid honesty.
“I really try to teach my staff about goal setting and vision,” Rush says. “For example, we had a manager come onboard that was of the mindset that we are just a hospital cafeteria. I helped him see that we’re more than that. Now he’s part of our team that has seen a 40% increase in revenue. I saw potential in him and I try and bring that out in people. I’m very honest and give them examples of instances when they weren’t as proactive as they could have been. It is incredible when they see the results and see that our goals are indeed possible.”
Cura Hospitality helps dietetic students gain hands-on experience.
For Cura Hospitality, it is important to help others, according to Joe Herman, senior director of clinical and nutrition services for the Orefield, Pa.-based company. By placing dietetic interns from several area colleges in its own sites, the company is able to help out students who might otherwise not get hands-on experience.
“The main place where students can go for an internship in our area is Lehigh Valley Hospital,” Herman says. “If they don’t get an internship there they’re sort of stuck, so the chairperson at their college gives them my contact information. I will work to find them a place at one of our 40 communities. Once they are placed, it’s up to myself and the staff at our sites to help the students complete the internship correctly.”
Herman says that most of the students he works with are from the dietetic programs at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., and Marrywood University in Scranton, Pa.
“They need the experience for their RD exam,” Herman says. “It’s usually a six-month internship. They have guidelines that are ADA approved and it’s my job to make sure that those objectives get carried out.”
Herman says the reason he mentors these students is a simple one.
“The main reason I do this is because I can remember when I was a student, people helped me out,” Herman says. “When you’re a student and you need an internship there are not always a lot of places to look. Plus, it gives the students exposure to Cura and our communities. My wish is always that when they’re done, we’ll have a job for them but, at the very least, it gives them exposure to our company.”
Herman says he is involved in the internship screening process so he can make sure his sites get organized students. Once at the site, the interns are involved in different rotations such as foodservice and sanitation.
“In some cases, depending on the site, they may actually train like the job is going to be theirs,” Herman says. “That’s actually the best way for them to learn. For the foodservice department they do inventory, ordering and scheduling of employees to gain a lot of hands-on experience. I also make sure they spend a few days on our clinical end. They’ll see what the dietician does each day, such as morning meetings, making rounds, charting patients and completing nutritional assessments. By the time their internship is complete, they have work experience and they know what direction they want to go. Some dieticians do foodservice better than the clinical part. We allow them the experience to figure out which they prefer.”
While the students are the ones that get the most direct benefit from the mentoring program, Herman says it’s also a great way for the site’s staff to reassess the way it does things.
“For our staff, it gives them experience with training,” Herman says. “As you’re training somebody you actually realize why you do things a certain way. It’s always possible that the student will ask you questions or show you a different way to do things. These types of mentoring programs give everyone a good experience.”—LR
Youth mentoring program encourages secondary students to stay in school.
At 33,800-student University of Georgia in Athens, J. Michael Floyd, director of dining, says his department participates in several mentoring programs including the NACUFS internship program. The department’s newest venture is a mentoring program that reaches out to middle and high school students called the Young Dawgs program.
“We just started a program with the university and local community called the Young Dawgs program [the UGA mascot is called Hairy Dawg]. This program is where we mentor high school students and provide them with foodservice training. Another feature of this program is where several university departments have adopted middle school classes and once a month we go to the local middle school and provide programming about jobs in foodservices. The drop out rate in our county is very high and this program is geared toward encouraging students to stay in school. The thought process is ‘let’s get out and hit the middle schools and see if we can excite them now and show them what opportunities are available for them and hopefully they’ll stay in school.’
The first part of the program is where we mentor high school students. We actually had high school students who—they got out of class time to come work with us during the day—came in our kitchens and worked for two hours a day. That is a more advanced stage in the program, and it is designed to help high school students with career training skills. Basically the intern was assigned to our chef and was given basic culinary training such as cutting techniques.
Then there is the middle school student portion of the program. We had about 20 middle school kids that did a summer internship here at the university. They worked in different departments all across campus. They learned office skills such as filing and how to answer phones. We just wanted them to get exposed to basic secretarial-type skills.
Another feature of the program is where we adopted middle school classes. Different departments at the university rotate classes at one middle school. There are 15 adopted classes total. We go in once a month and teach a lesson. We rotate different people in and we talk about careers in college foodservice. We’re trying to expose these middle school kids to culinary careers. Whether we have a chef talking about what a chef does at a college or an HR trainer, we’re letting these people go in and talk about what they do every day. I’ve heard that the kids have a lot of good questions about the hours, the benefits and skills they’d need to get these types of jobs. The kids do seem to be focused on how to get into the industry or just interested to hear how to get into any industry. As a fun event we take sugar cookies in and have the students decorate them. Of course, they get a big kick out of that. What we were hearing from the school was that we were the biggest hit of all the groups that come in. I think the cookies have something to do with that.
We do a few other things with mentoring students. We are part of the NACUFS/ACUHO-I internship program. We have been involved with this program since 1987. Since then we have hosted two college student interns every summer where we provide them with an overview of college foodservices. Many of these students then choose to enter the hospitality industry after they graduate. We have hired several of these interns ourselves.
We also hire students for management positions. This management experience is an excellent resume builder. In addition, several of these students have joined our full-time management team after they graduate.
I think the Young Dawgs mentoring program is very important to encourage young students to stay in school. With the drop out rate being so high, I think these students haven’t previously been exposed to their potential. Plus, it allows our staff to get involved in the community. Anytime you can get your staff involved in the community, I think you have a better organization.”