In The News

A Training Program That Really Cooks


The U.S. restaurant industry added 30,000 jobs each month in 2014. By 2022, it’s estimated that more than 5 million people will work in food and beverage services; that’s the equivalent of every man, woman and child in the state of Colorado working to plan, prepare or deliver your food or run your local restaurant.

The question becomes, with tight budgets and limited time, how can employers train that many new workers?

Enter ProStart: a two-year training program from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF). Each year, 95,000 high school students use the program to learn essential skills they can use in careers in the foodservice industry. The program provides a comprehensive look at how restaurants work – from basic knife skills to advanced marketing.

“We’re not getting them ready for jobs, we’re preparing them for a career,” explains program director Greg Beachey. When he started in the industry, there wasn’t such a formalized approach to learning. “I would just go to other restaurants or banquet halls,” he recalls, “just to hang out with chefs in the back of the house and learn what they were doing.”

ProStart graduates enter the workforce with the coveted ProStart National Certificate of Achievement. This guarantees he or she has completed classroom work, passed two national certification tests and spent at least 400 hours in a working restaurant environment.

Students are eligible for dozens of scholarships for degree programs at places like The Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In many cases, credits high school students earn in ProStart translate to college credits too.

It’s no surprise, then, that ProStart has alumni in high places like The French Laundry in Yountville, CA – twice named by Restaurant Magazine’s as “Best Restaurant in the World.”

Maxcel Hardy used ProStart to launch a successful career as a caterer and private chef for NBA stars like Amar’e Stoudemire. Now, he’s an author and philanthropist working to bring ProStart skills to a new generation. In a 2014 interview in Catering Magazine, Maxcel recalled what the program meant to him: “ProStart was huge. If it wasn’t for ProStart, I wouldn’t have had a culinary scholarship, so it was a blessing.”

ProStart Works Because Training Works

2014 National ProStart Invitational Culinary Competition

The NRAEF targets ProStart to fill a real need: In a recent survey, restaurant owners complained that 46 percent of the time they spend on training goes towards education around “basic skills.” Consider the fact that staff turnover decreases by 20 percent when foodservice employees are trained for just four hours and you can see a winning formula emerging. ProStart’s focus on basic skills means restaurateurs can spend their time training employees on advanced skills that will make the business and the worker successful.

This formula is why industry leaders like Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen are partnering with ProStart.

”The viability of the restaurant industry depends on the development, commitment and skill of the next generation of restaurant professionals,” wrote Popeyes CEO Cheryl Bachelder.“… our hope is that this partnership will help advance the next generation of dedicated, passionate leaders — not only for our brand, but for our entire industry.”

Popeyes now provides mentored internships for ProStart students to arm them with the skills they need to enter the workforce. The numbers back up this kind of leadership, as more than 80 percent of students who receive the NRAEF National Certificate of Achievement Scholarship are still in the industry five years later.

“When it first started, local restaurants didn’t really see the value,” NRAEF’s Beachey recalls, but “now they look at NRAEF Education and Training staff, see they’re all ProStart students and realize they need to get involved.”

National Network Looks Beyond the Kitchen

Learning and working are no longer independent domains. When students apply knowledge and skills in real-world scenarios, they are more engaged, learn more completely and are better prepared for life and the workplace. Business-led work-and-learn models give people the hands-on skills and real-world work experiences needed to prepare for a successful career and an improved quality of life.

The National Network is focused on expanding these types of business-led work-and-learn models. Using a model like ProStart, members of the National Network can define the attributes of effective models, map these models across a continuum from middle school through mid-career and develop tools that will make it easier for employers to implement work-and-learn models.