Increasing access to culinary arts education

With an aging population of tradespeople and a shrinking number of new entrants to replace them, nearly every skilled trade is facing a gap between the volume of work to be done and enough workers to meet that need. And the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated this problem. In fact, a recent report from Angi (formerly Angie’s List) found that most believe the labor shortage is getting worse.

The truth is, while as many as 85% of young people know that the trades can be good career options, many fewer have considered such careers for themselves. Career and technical education (CTE) programs offer the training necessary for entry into these jobs, but what else can they do? How can educators propel students toward careers in the skilled trades?

Account for the reasons why.

Lack of access is a significant barrier for many young people. They may not be able to afford to delay their careers for several years while they get their education. Solutions-oriented educators (and employers) must meet people where they are and help them forge pathways to fulfilling careers.

Consider, for example, tuition assistance programs. Employers providing some form of tuition assistance is nothing new. But often, these arrangements involve paying for employees’ graduate degrees. Tradespeople have often been left out of this narrative, either learning on the job or completing apprenticeship programs. And while this hands-on education is absolutely valuable, additional classroom learning can infuse the “why” behind the “how.” Creating partnerships to support prospective CTE students with tuition assistance can help meet the unique needs of all.

Offer flexible learning opportunities in culinary arts.

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts was an early innovator in online education, pioneering one of the first 100% online culinary programs paired with in-person industry externships. Students can complete their programs from their home kitchens to establish the fundamentals. Then they carry these new skills into a professional
kitchen environment.

Culinary industry stakeholders must attract interested candidates and provide a path for them to get the skills and work experience they need to grow and be competitive. This is the goal of Escoffier’s Work & Learn apprenticeship program. The school partners with restaurants, bakeries and other foodservice businesses to create growth opportunities for students and their employers in several related pathways:

  • Culinary arts
  • Baking and pastry
  • Plant-based culinary arts
  • Hospitality and restaurant operations management

Denise Sullivan, vice president of enterprise solutions at Escoffier, explained the approach further. “Career seekers want to start more lucrative careers or advance their current careers,” she said. “They need employer support to help them identify and prepare for those opportunities. Programs like Work & Learn help employees develop knowledge, skills and behaviors that bring full competence to their roles.”

Meet employers where they are.

Part of the program’s success comes from providing flexibility to employers. While Escoffier offers a variety of curricula, employer partners can choose which programs they want to support. A vegan restaurant, for example, may only participate in Work & Learn for the plant-based culinary arts program. Also, they can choose to allow students to work toward a degree or diploma, at their discretion. Some employers aim for a zero-debt program, providing their own tuition assistance and helping students to source scholarships — in addition to a scholarship provided by Escoffier. And, in some instances, this may eliminate a student’s need for loans.

“Hospitality, restaurant and service companies are all vying for the same culinary talent,” said Sullivan. “Companies who embrace continuing education are seeing positive results.”

Tim Condon, chef and owner at the Angry Cactus in San Angelo, Texas, is so invested in this partnership! In fact, he is planning to add a dedicated educational kitchen to his restaurant where up to 12 students can work on their culinary arts program. Online education is uniquely positioned to foster partnerships with business owners like Condon.

Of course, we know that not all schools offer online education. And many pathways in CTE are difficult to teach in an online format. That was the common belief in the culinary industry, until Escoffier led the way.

Work closely with employer partners; maybe even ask if the employer can provide some of the necessary training. Educators must be flexible to meet the unique needs of their industry to attract employers and students. By shifting focus out of the classroom and into the workforce, educators can help people improve their skills and help to fill the shortages facing the trades.

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts offers both online and on-campus programs in culinary arts, baking and pastry, hospitality and restaurant operations management, and more.

Read more in Techniques.