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Tried looking for staff in these places?

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Foodservice operations’ labor problems are at an all-time high, but so may be the efforts to pull and keep candidates from the depleted pool of potential hires. Population segments that were once too small or controversial to merit the industry’s attention—from former prison inmates to recovered substance abusers to children aging out of foster care—are now being squarely targeted by new and often experimental programs.

Here’s a sampling, along with what information is available about the effectiveness of those alternative recruitment channels.

Aspiring managers and chefs

No longer are apprenticeships solely dedicated to training chefs. Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) has set up a program to boost retention of front- and back-of-house crewmembers by offering them an earn-as-you-learn route to becoming restaurant managers within two years. There’s also the potential recruitment benefit of providing participants a path to management-level positions without running up a huge debt from college loans. And because of the grant, there’s no cost to employers. The first graduates are settling into their new management jobs now, with 1,000 more staffers currently enrolled in the program.

But that’s not the only way apprenticeships are being reworked to meet the industry’s current needs. The American Culinary Federation (ACF), a chef’s group, recently revamped its 40-year-old program to offer digital distance learning as an alternative to actual classroom time, a change intended to extend culinary apprenticeships to more would-be chefs in the hinterlands. “There’s a mistaken impression that future chefs need to relocate to a small list of big cities in order to get the highest level of training and experience—that no longer has to be the case,” said Jeremy Abbey, the ACF’s director of culinary programs.

Youngsters aging out of foster care

At age 18 or 21, depending on the state, young people are required by law to exit foster care. The presumption is they’re adults ready to make their way in the world—the euphemistic term for their release is “emancipation”—but statistics tell a different and far sadder story. More than half will be without a job within four years, and one in four of them will end up homeless within that time, according to fast-casual salad chain Tender Greens.

The West Coast chain is throwing the emancipated a lifeline by offering six-month paid internships. Enrollees learn the business by washing dishes and performing other entry-level tasks, working their way to more responsible jobs just as any other hire would. If the candidates survive the six-month internships, they’re offered a regular job. It estimates that about 26,000 youngsters age out of foster year in a typical year.

Tender Greens isn’t the only operation that’s providing paid restaurant training to that population. Monkey Business Cafe, a two-unit operation in southern California, was launched specifically to function as a bridge from foster care to self-sufficiency. Current employees have aged out of California’s support system, with mentoring provided by older peers who traveled that same route.

Workforce dropouts
 

More than 5 million young people are neither students nor active members of the workforce, though not by choice, according to the NRAEF. It cites findings that 75% of that demographic, known as “opportunity youth,” would prefer to work as a way of improving their lives, but are alienated from that social track. The Association and a number of community groups are aiming to turn those young people into candidates for restaurant jobs through a six-city program called Restaurant Ready.

The Foundation describes itself as the “convener” of the 3-year-old program, bringing together community training and rehabilitation programs with state and local restaurant associations. The idea is to find local groups that can prepare opportunity youths aged 16 to 24 for entry into the job market, with the hope is the youngsters will opt for restaurant jobs. However, the focus is on fundamental skills that will help participants in whatever field they may enter. The Restaurant Ready program was recently expanded into Chicago. It is already offered in Dallas; New Orleans; Fort Collins, Colo.; Washington, D.C.; and Salinas, Calif.

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