Your hidden source for the employee talent of tomorrow, right now

Your hidden source for the employee talent of tomorrow, right now

Years ago as a restaurant owner, I experienced the challenges of working with teens under the age of 18. I once had a banquet on a Thursday night, and a 17-year-old prep cook happened to be on the clock past midnight. Another employee tuned me into L&I for the infraction. I didn’t have the proper parent permission documentation, and I violated child labor laws by having a 17-year-old work so late on a school night. So, I ended up with a fine. After that experience, I made it company policy to not hire anyone under the age of 18.

That leads me to my point. Why should you hire a ProStart student or graduate? First of all, you shouldn’t hire a ProStart student until you know what the ProStart program is all about. Secondly, not all ProStart students are ready to work in our industry, and some are not in the program for the right reasons. But knowing what I know today, I would go without hesitation to a ProStart program to find quality employees.

The ProStart program prepares high school juniors and seniors with a knowledge-based curriculum and performance-based internship program that teaches foundation skills in culinary and restaurant management. It’s an opportunity for young people to follow their passion to cook, serve, manage and sometimes own their own business. Just ask Elijah Dalager, ProStart graduate from Ferris High School in Spokane. Elijah is now the executive sous chef at Templins Hotel on the river in Post Falls, Idaho. In this case, the student has become the teacher. Elijah now mentors students at Rogers High School and assists other area schools with chef demonstrations.

Impressively, Elijah was named the 2011 Washington State Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation.

Want more evidence of ProStart’s impact? Talk with Jerry Weathers, a ProStart graduate of Mt Si High School. Jerry is the sous chef at Snoqualmie Ridge Golf Club and owns a catering business. Jerry mentors students at Mt Si high school and hires graduates and interns from the program. Wouldn’t you like to find an Elijah or a Jerry for your operations? I know I would.

I have the pleasure of traveling around the state, presenting to our partner ProStart programs on career opportunities in our industry. In each class I speak to, I encounter a few who ask the right questions, want to know more, yearn to get engaged with volunteer learning and networking opportunities and show a genuine passion for what we do. Whether it is to cook, serve or manage, they are ready for us to guide them.

It should become common practice to get involved with ProStart as an avenue for finding qualified, passionate and enthusiastic individuals to become the next stars in your operation. Send your chefs to the ProStart classrooms to do demos, where they’ll meet students who may one day be a perfect fit for their kitchen staffs. Send your floor managers to a ProStart class on front of the house operations, and watch them discover those students with the potential to become a future employees. Invite ProStart students to assist you on a banquet or community fundraiser, and you will see first-hand who shows up, who works hard, who asks, “What more can I do?” and who you would want on your team.

Scott Fraser, owner of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway in Oak Harbor, was featured in 2010 on Northwest Backroads, a TV program on King5 that highlights regional attractions. Scott mentors the Oak Harbor ProStart students by inviting them into his restaurant to practice for competition. He assists teacher Louise Reuble with the class and has been known to hire the most impressive students. The Oak Harbor team, with Scott’s help, placed third in the nation at the 2010 National ProStart Culinary Invitational. He doesn’t have to look on Craigslist or sift through a stack of applications to find talent for his operation. He knows exactly which students will help him be successful, and in turn, he helps them reach their career goals.

So, yes. There are challenges to hiring teens, but hiring the right teens with skills, desire and willingness to work hard is worth it. You just have to get involved. As your community begins to learn about what you’re doing for these kids, watch the seats in you restaurant start to fill up as well. They’ll want to see your efforts in action.

With more than 13 million people currently employed and nearly 1.5 million more expected to join the workforce in the next 10 years, the foodservice industry needs an educated and trained workforce to lead the way. Nationally, the ProStart program reaches more than 90,000 students at 1,700 high schools in 47 states.

If you have any doubt about the quality of the ProStart program, travel to Olympia on March 3 at South Puget Sound Community College, and watch as 22 Washington schools compete in culinary and restaurant management competitions. Watch teenagers work in teams as they problem-solve their way through a challenge they weren’t expecting, or present a business plan for a new restaurant concept. The young people we observe on that day are truly the industry leaders of our future. Prepare yourself to be blown away.

For information on ProStart programs in your area or if you are interested in finding ways to support and get engaged in this great program, please check our web site at or contact the Education Foundation at 877.695.9733.

(Source: Washington Restaurant Magazine. Written by Lyle Hildahl, director of the Education Foundation)