As staffing challenges continue to add pressure to Colorado’s food industry, restaurateurs and chefs are actively seeking new ways to connect with quality workers and increase staff retention. New to Colorado and a select few other states, the Restaurant Youth Registered Apprenticeship
(RYRA) program was created by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) and provides funding through a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. RYRA offers two apprenticeship options — line cook and management — and will link local restaurants with enrolled students ages 17 to 24 while providing concerted support from Emily Griffith Technical College
and the Colorado Restaurant Foundation
“Colorado is an early adopter of the NRAEF apprenticeship program and is helping to set the tone of the future for our industry,” explains Lauren Roberts, president of Watercourse Foods/City, O’ City/Make, Believe Bakery
With guided assistance and training material provided by CRF to help facilitate a successful apprenticeship match, participating restaurants have access to a new pool of eager candidates with the hopes of establishing increased productivity and, most important, long-term employee retention.
“There is statewide investment to get these programs off the ground, as apprenticeship leads to more competitive jobs, workforce development, and a way for operators to recover from the ongoing impact of COVID-19,” states Roberts. Although a new participant in the program, Roberts already sees expansion potential. “Watercourse Foods is also taking this program to southern Colorado in a new operation expected this summer, providing competitive work opportunities and career pathways for rural communities.”
Also echoing current industry staffing concerns, Chook Charcoal Chicken
’s chief operating officer, Elizabeth Nicholson, sees the RYRA partnership as an opening to an untapped potential pool of future Chook employees (who are affectionately called “peeps"). “What’s most exciting for us is that throughout the pandemic, we have seen a huge shift in our industry about what the standards for restaurants are and what the environment should be," observes Nicholson. "We really think that it should evolve, and we have been pushing that a little bit more and more. We are a good-paying, happy staff, fun dynamic environment. And then really building in pieces that matter to us about being good stewards for the environment and thinking about sourcing.”
At the core of the apprenticeship principle is the ability for organizations to pass on wisdom and values to future generations. “For us, the apprenticeship program is for recent high school graduates or those very young in their professional careers, so they haven’t had much exposure to other professional environments," Nicholson explains. "It’s really exciting for us to say, ‘Here is what we think a good standard for restaurant and professional environments should be,’ and take that with you and hopefully go to other restaurants and teach them about composting, or start your own restaurant and focus on how you're treating your staff.”
Mark Woolcott Photography
Recognizing the dire need and sense of urgency from the local food industry, Emily Griffith Technical College applies its apprenticeship experience to this new joint venture by offering extensive student support. “Emily Griffith...has had an apprenticeship program since 1916 and is currently the largest apprenticeship provider in Colorado,” says Kelsey Glass, associate dean of apprenticeships. “It also provides wraparound services and additional funds that our students may not otherwise have. As an added benefit, it provides students with a case manager to track their progress and support them on their culinary journey.”
For the apprentice, benefits from the program are numerous and include an “earn and learn'' structure that allows for income earnings to coincide with educational classes. The supportive services provided by Emily Griffith help mentor the student to successfully balance employment and coursework for a softer adjustment into the job sector.
Funding provided by the grant is distributed to participants and can be used for additional coursework or other needs. Once the program is completed, the apprentice receives a nationally recognized certificate, giving them an advantage when seeking employment, especially in today’s job environment. Although the program is specific to the culinary industry, the skills acquired by the student through the program can be transferred to many other areas of life.
“The apprenticeship program is a great way for students to gain work experience while they attend school,” says chef Tim Inzano, instructor of the culinary arts program at Emily Griffith. “Then, when they graduate, they don’t have to worry about starting a career without any experience, because they have been gaining experience all along through the RYRA program.”
Glass emphasizes Emily Griffith’s excitement to be a part of this unique program that will benefit students and expand partnerships to help meet the current and future needs of Colorado restaurants and businesses.
Restaurants interested in learning more about RYRA may reach out to Colorado Restaurant Foundation programs manager Paula Thomas at [email protected]. To learn more about how to become an apprentice, visit chooserestaurants.org/apprenticeship-ryra. For more information about the educational programs at Emily Griffith Technical College, visit emilygriffith.edu.