SOMETHING COOKING: According to the Amos House, its Culinary Education Program has provided 318 people with training over the last 11 years. Pictured above are program students, from left, Nathan Williams, Emily Calderon and Tilmon Evans.
Just a year ago, Stephanie Hebert was a long-term unemployed woman in her mid-20s without a college education or high school diploma – exactly the population at risk for chronic joblessness and public-assistance dependence.
But Hebert was determined not to have that happen and today she has her GED and is employed at an Uno Chicago Grill in Smithfield as a line cook, a profession she previously never considered.
Her turning point was a chance encounter with a staff member at Connecting for Children and Families and embracing an opportunity to take part in that organization’s Culinary Arts Program that seeks to provide the unemployed and under-employed with a strong set of practical and soft skills to meet the culinary industry’s employment demands.
The Governor’s Workforce Board recently awarded Connecting Children & Families a $168,366 Innovative Partnership grant that will allow program expansion. The board made a similar award to Amos House of Providence, a nonprofit social services agency, with a $145,282 grant to expand a culinary training program that has run there since 2002.
“Hospitality is one of the industry sectors that the Governor’s Workforce Board has identified as high-growth. If we were going to provide relevant programs we wanted to ensure they were high-demand industries,” Connecting for Children Director Heidi Collins said. “And that we are training [people] with skills that employers are often saying they can’t find to fill positions.”
The R.I. Department of Labor and Training labor-market information predicted an approximate 17 percent growth in restaurant-cook positions between 2010 and 2020. It has predicated just under 10 percent job growth in short-order cooks, an 18.4 percent growth in institution- and cafeteria-cook positions, a 9.4 percent growth in food-batch makers, about a 7.1 percent growth in food-preparation workers, and a 17 percent growth in nonrestaurant food servers.
For Hebert, the Connecting Children for Families program has been a lifesaver.
“I don’t even know if I’d have a job at this point,” she said. “I was unemployed for so long, and I feel like the program helped me get a job. … I learned nice skills.”
Connecting Children for Families, a Woonsocket nonprofit that focuses on improving the quality of family and community life, began the culinary-training program in March 2011 as part of its Center for Financial Success.