By Carl Georigi
Concepts like career advancement, mentorship, leadership, and hands-on learning are likely far from the mind of the average restaurant customer, sitting down to gather with neighbors and friends over a delicious meal. But for restaurant employers like me, they’re an increasing part of how I run my business – all thanks to an apprenticeship.
Long associated with plumbers, electricians, and other trades, apprenticeship has proven to be a natural fit for the fast-paced world of restaurants. The kitchen and dining room are the classroom, with the staff as the instructors. Together, they serve up a productive mix of hands-on learning, personal mentorship, and a way for owners and operators like me to invest in the people who want to be the next managers and cooks on my team.
The U.S. Department of Labor agrees. Seeing the restaurant and hospitality industry as fertile apprenticeship soil, it awarded a $12.2 million contract to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) earlier this year to grow its Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship (HSRA) Program by 5,000 participants in the coming years. As we celebrate National Apprenticeship Week and the work of the Delaware Restaurant Association to implement these important programs locally, I’m reflecting on the growth of apprenticeship in my own company and why I see it as a key part of developing the restaurant industry’s future leaders.
First, the restaurant industry always has good jobs available with plenty of growth potential. With eight in ten owners and nine in ten managers starting in entry-level roles, the options to excel and build a lasting restaurant career are truly endless. Apprenticeship gives aspiring food service professionals a leg up, providing real-life experience that develops their technical abilities and personal accountability. These are valuable skills for any role, but especially for business leaders and entrepreneurs. As an operator, I quickly know that those who completed an apprenticeship are ready and equipped to advance.
Second, I know first-hand that when a restaurant engages in apprenticeship programs, there’s a knock-on effect for existing employees. Apprenticeships are unique in that they allow operators, directors, chefs, and others the opportunity to lean into their mentorship capabilities, which are critical skills for those hoping to grow into management. Put another way, by engaging in a formal training program for the next generation, we are empowering the entire restaurant industry to lead by example and cultivate its own leadership.
Finally, I cannot overstate the impact these apprenticeship programs have had on my establishments in Delaware. Since we began our participation, we’ve had several apprentices come in and quickly do great work for our businesses and our customers. In today’s consumer environment, it’s also worth noting that our affiliation with a future-forward program that’s shaping tomorrow’s youth is helping with recruitment and our broader branding. After speaking with my peers who have also been part of restaurant apprenticeships, I know that my experience is not unique.
When previous generations got a job at a restaurant, the idea that they could find formalized pathways to professional careers in my industry may not have existed. Today, apprenticeship programs like HSRA and the NRAEF’s Restaurant Youth Registered Apprenticeship Program (RYRA) alongside the Delaware Restaurant Association are matching the next generation of restaurant workers with fresh opportunities that will elevate careers and businesses alike. Some apprentices will go on to find success as servers, chefs, managers, and more, while a growing number will take the lessons that they’ve learned to launch their own successful restaurants.
Restaurant apprenticeship is a unique example of public and private industry working together to put the next generation first. It is my hope that policymakers, thought leaders, and other decisionmakers in our nation’s capital will see its tangible results. Their support will be crucial in ensuring these incredible opportunities remain a reality for restaurant workers for years to come.
Georigi is the Founder and CEO of Platinum Dining Group, a privately-owned, full-service hospitality company that owns and operates six multi-concept restaurants, a full-service special events/catering company, and specialty retail markets in northern Delaware. He is a member and immediate past Chairman of the Delaware Restaurant Association.