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We’re training people for jobs, but we’re not stopping there

If you feel like there’s a new restaurant opening on every corner, you’re not alone. The restaurant industry, both in DC and across the country, is booming.

Over the month of July, more than a quarter of new jobs were in the foodservice industry, surpassing the number of new jobs in industries like healthcare and manufacturing. This isn’t a new trend, either. Restaurant job growth has outpaced the overall economy every month since August 2010 (that’s 200 months and counting).

At DC Central Kitchen, we’re in the business of training people for jobs in the rapidly growing food service industry —but we’re not stopping there. By creating good jobs at our own organization, we’re empowering our graduates to make changes to more than their employment status. They’re changing the direction of their own lives, and their families’ futures.

We’re moving our students towards real careers, and creating them right here.

The restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart. Entry-level restaurant jobs are often associated with lower wages, limited benefits, and long, challenging hours.

Knowing the challenges of entering the restaurant industry full well, we work with our restaurant and hospitality partners across the city to identify opportunities that work for our students and the businesses that hire them. And as our graduates integrate into the workforce, we check in with them regularly for the next two years, making sure they have the supportive services they need and are continuing to move up in their career. In fact, 50% of our grads from last year were able to secure a wage increase within their first 12 months on the job.

We also have sought to give many DC Central Kitchen graduates a leg up by creating good jobs for them right here at DC Central Kitchen. As of today, we are employing 77 DC Central Kitchen Culinary Job Training graduates (out of our 168 employees total). All new DC Central Kitchen hires start earning at least $14.25 an hour, above the District’s  living wage of $13.95 this year.

We don’t stop at paying an above-living wage either. All of our employees employees receive paid vacation, as well as free, comprehensive health insurance, disability, and life insurance. We encourage our employees to start 401(k)s, and we match every dollar our staff contributes up to 4% of their salary. Many of our students come to the kitchen with little to no savings, or without a bank account in their name, but as employees on our team, they are now able to invest in a 401(k) and plan for their future.

We’re not just teaching knife skills. We’re building life skills.

We know that it’s not enough to set people up for their first job here at the kitchen. Our students need to be ready for the next job, and for life after they leave our kitchen. With this in mind, we have built in daily self empowerment classes for our students. In these sessions, students break down personal barriers as a group and work through the long-standing challenges holding them back. We believe that teaching someone how to cook is valuable, but that this work to build student’s self-confidence and self-efficacy is invaluable.

When our graduates join our team, we want this education and growth to continue. We’re always seeking to better ourselves, and we’re encouraging our employees to do the same. Our leadership took a hard look at our staff’s needs this past year, and we realized that if we want people to truly succeed, then we needed to put more money where our mouth is. This summer, we doubled our professional development budget to give more staff the ability to pursue continuing education, attend job-related trainings and workshops, and move to the next level in their career.

And we’re seeing results.

While many of our graduates on staff continue to pursue their interest in culinary and developing their skills on the front-line, over the past few months we have seen more and more graduates move into new programmatic and administrative positions across the organization.

One grad, Jessica, was promoted from a line cook position in our Community Meals program to our Monitoring and Evaluation team. Jessica is now charged with capturing and managing our data while supporting efforts to share our measurable results. Another grad, Crystal, had been a production lead for our Healthy School Food venture. As of this month, Crystal has joined our Culinary Job Training program as a workforce development coordinator and is sharing her insights on professional readiness with the next generation of students. And Jacci, after years as a positive presence on the floor of our Nutrition Lab food hub facility, shifted gears and is now managing inventory and quality control of our Healthy Corners products at local corner stores.

There are many stories like these, of graduates taking on more and more responsibility and embarking on their own diverse career pathways. The skills they learned as students, and then working in our kitchens, are translating into new opportunities. We’re proud to engage women and men who once relied on our programs as leaders in driving those programs forward. And the more we learn about how to provide supportive career pathways, the more we look forward to sharing with our peers and allies in the hospitality industry.

If you are a hospitality industry employer looking to hire graduates of our Culinary Job Training program, please contact our Chief Programs Officer, Kimberly Brown at kbrown@dccentralkitchen.org.