Restaurant Association Takes Job Training to Prison Inmates
Rob Gifford, president of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, which is launching a program to provide restaurant job training to incarcerated young adults.
The restaurant industry is uniquely suited to provide jobs for people transitioning out of the prison system, says Rob Gifford, and with funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation is launching a new program aimed at doing just that.
“Our industry is clearly the No. 1 industry for first jobs and second chances in the world of work,” says Gifford, NRAEF president. “And restaurants are in every city in the country,” giving them the scale to make a widespread impact.
With a $4.5 million grant from the Department of Labor, part of its Reentry Employment Opportunity initiative, the NRAEF is rolling out the HOPES program— Hospitality Opportunities for People (re)Entering Society—which will bring job training to incarcerated young adults and place them in a restaurant or foodservice position upon release. The HOPES program will combine elements of the NRA’s ServeSafe food and beverage safety training and Restaurant Ready, a national program it launched in 2017 to work with community organizations and state restaurant associations to provide skills training and make employment connections with disengaged youth.
HOPES will launch in four cities, Boston, Chicago, and Richmond and Hampton Roads, Virginia, which Gifford says were chosen for several reasons, including having “a department of corrections willing to train in foodservice and partner with us.” The presence of strong community-based reentry programs and partnerships with state restaurant associations were other factors, and Gifford says they’ll closely track results before bringing the program to more cities.
“We’re anxious to use this endorsement of our ideas by the Department of Labor to bring this to other parts of the country,” he says, noting while the educational foundation is proud of its academic efforts through its ProStart high school program and other certifications, there’s “a really compelling need to help those not in the academic system.” He believes the restaurant industry’s lower barrier to entry and its shorter training cycle are especially beneficial in creating a pathway to employment for the formerly incarcerated.
“The time between when an individual leaves the prison system and when they start that first job is critical,” says Gifford, noting the statistic that the recidivism rate for former prisoners who work during the first year after their release is 16 percent, versus 52 percent for those who don’t have employment in that first year.
That means the involvement of local community organizations in the program is particularly important. “We’re not only going to place the individual, but the community organizations in each area will stay connected with them for a year to help them stay on track,” says Gifford.
Labor is continually cited as the top challenge for restaurant operators, and the restaurant association reports the industry has nearly 1 million unfilled jobs. Getting franchise restaurant operators connected on the employment side of the HOPES program is another goal, says Gifford. “We’d anticipate franchise companies being a great fit,” he says.