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Delawareans cook up culinary careers with new apprenticeship programs


The restaurant industry is the second-largest private-sector employer in the United States, according to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), and there are 13 million restaurant and foodservice employees nationwide. According to the Delaware Restaurant Association (DRA), the restaurant industry is Delaware’s largest tourism component, top small business employer and fourth-largest employer overall. With more than 1,900 restaurant locations and more than 40,000 restaurant employees, Delaware’s restaurant industry creates an economic impact of more than $1.3 billion.

In 2020, the ongoing need for skilled labor in the field – particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – prompted the NRAEF to launch the Restaurant Youth Registered Apprenticeship (RYRA) Program. Delaware is one of just four states selected to pilot the program, which serves youth aged 17 to 24.

“We want to attract people into this industry and empower them with related training and on-the-job learning,” said Raelynn Grogan of the DRA Educational Foundation, which manages the state’s program. “Then we want to advance them.”

Delaware was selected for the pilot partly due to the Delaware Restaurant Association’s experience. The state’s size was another plus.

“We had a lot of previous grassroots efforts in the apprenticeship realm about two years ago, so we helped create benchmarks for the NRAEF,” Grogan said. “I think the size of our state makes us a little petri dish, if you will. Our size helps with accessibility, promotion, convening and coordination.”

Thanks to the U.S. Department of Labor and the state Department of Labor, a separate fund supports NRAEF’s Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship (HSRA) program in Delaware. This program targets new and current restaurant and foodservice workers who are older than the RYRA cutoff age of 24.

Both programs have tracks for restaurant managers and line cooks. Participants receive paid on-the-job training in a restaurant setting for front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house; job-related education in a classroom or online; and access to nationally recognized credentials from the restaurant industry and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Restaurant management participants also learn basic leadership, financial management and marketing skills. Line cook participants also learn basic culinary skills, food safety and sanitation, along with inventory and supply management fundamentals.

Participating Delaware companies have included Platinum Dining Group, Big Fish Restaurant Group, Ashby Hospitality Group, Harrington Raceway & Casino, Harry’s Hospitality Group, Janssen’s Market, Hyatt Place Dewey Beach and Two Stones Pub.

“One of the keys to the program is that it ties youth interested in hospitality careers to employers offering skills training and mentoring,” said Xavier Teixido of Harry’s Hospitality Group. “It’s a win-win for all participants.”

Many Delaware apprentices are affiliated with NRAEF’s ProStart Program, a two-year curriculum available to students at more than a dozen high schools throughout the state. The state apprenticeship program also reaches out to the Wilmington Job Corps Center, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, Wilmington’s Teen Warehouse, Children’s Beach House in Lewes and the Food Bank of Delaware’s culinary training program.

“This program is the beginning of what will likely be a lifelong career for most people involved,” said Michael Stiglitz of Two Stones. “Every position within our industry is a career path. The lifelong skills acquired, the friendships made and the journey through a rewarding career all begin with this first chosen step of joining the program.”

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