As student loan debt skyrockets to nearly $1.5trn with 65% of all graduates dealing with debt, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, high school students – also known as Generation Z – are at a crossroads right now when it comes to deciding which path to take.
While most are familiar with the terms blue collar and white collar when it comes to defining jobs, there has been a blurring of lines and an increase in so-called ‘new collar’ opportunities. These are positions that require specialized education and skill but not necessarily a four-year college degree, and that includes restaurant and hospitality jobs.
In fact, the National Restaurant Association’s 2019 State of the Union report noted that the industry stands at a record high when it comes to job openings, with an expected 1.6 million jobs ready to be filled this year.
Eating and drinking places are projected to add jobs at a 2.2% rate, compared to total US employment. And, although this growth is projected to be somewhat dampened from recent years, 2019 still represents the ninth consecutive year of gains in the restaurant industry.
There’s also an expected growth for non-foodservice, support-type jobs at eating and drinking places, including in operations, business, finance, entertainment, administration and transportation and transportation occupations: more than 1.1 million available jobs by 2029, an increase of nearly 6%.
“We think it’s exciting that people have a variety of pathways to success and that there are new options available to them as in the restaurant/hospitality industry that maybe weren’t there before,” says Rob Gifford (pictured, below), executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF).
“When we think of these new collar jobs, we’re talking about the types of jobs that might require some technical training or skills, but not necessarily a college degree. Restaurant and hospitality industry jobs are great because they offer people a variety of transferrable skills that can be applied to jobs in other industries, and in life.”
Teenagers, in particular, are flocking to the restaurant industry. Roughly 1.7 million teens were employed in a restaurant in 2018 — the highest number since 2007 – the Association’s report found.
That’s where the NRAEF has come in. While the Educational Foundation is widely known for its ProStart program and culinary competitions for high school students and aspiring chefs from around the country, it has also launched – in partnership with the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute – an apprenticeship program as a way to help newcomers to the industry get a better footing, while also helping restaurants better recruit and retain their staff.
The apprenticeship program, lasting between six and 24 months, are offered to current employers at restaurants and hotels that have agreed to work with the NRAEF to align training, education and milestone markers. Upon completion of the 100 or so core competencies listed by the Educational Foundation, program participants earn a Certified Restaurant Manager or Certified Lodging Manager credentials they can use to earn promotions and higher pay.
“The program offers young people the opportunity to go directly in the industry or have some college education and then enter the industry and immediately learn many life skills, such as dependability, adaptability, critical thinking, decision making, customer focus, and teamwork that are crucial for young people no matter where they end up in their career,” says Gifford, who notes that the program is not “anti-college,” and can be just as useful for those with four-year college degrees or career switchers.
Although the apprenticeship program officially launched in 2018, the NRAEF is currently in active recruitment mode to get more hospitality businesses on board. The program currently has close to 100 employers and between 1,000 and 1,500 apprentices and is in compliance with the US Department of Labor standards for apprenticeship programs.
Through this program, “we are working to bring folks together to show families and businesses the high skill levels that young people today have as well as understand all the opportunities that exist for them in the restaurant and hospitality industry.”
More than 400 students will compete this year at the 18thannual National ProStart Invitational, which takes place in Washington, D.C. May 8-10.