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Employment: Second Harvest Trains Food Service Workers

Second Harvest Culinary Training Program Class of 2017

Where Are the Workers? A Win-Win Solution to Florida’s Labor Shortage

With nearly 10 million Americans actively looking for work, some employers face a surprising challenge: No one is applying for jobs. In small towns and sprawling metropolises alike, countless restaurants, hotels, construction sites and others are “now hiring” — with little to show for it.

It’s not a problem anyone expected to face in 2021. For the last year and more, our mantra has been “getting back to work” — keeping people in jobs, limiting the damage caused by mass unemployment, and helping businesses return to normal operations. But no matter the reason, it’s clear that Florida needs a supply of trained workers to supplement food service and hospitality, two cornerstones of our economy.

It’s a serious problem, but the nonprofit Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is helping to find a solution.

While Second Harvest has been serving twice the usual number of meals every day during the pandemic, the organization has also been working to “shorten the line” of people who need hunger relief through initiatives like its Culinary Training Program. Launched in 2013, the program combats financial insecurity — a root cause of hunger — by providing disadvantaged adults with a food service education they can use to build skilled careers.

Consider Frank, a current student. During the pandemic, he was furloughed from his job as a hotel bellhop. He took it as an opportunity to grow and stay active, and he enrolled in the Culinary Training Program. Frank said he views the program as a job, adding: “It’s easier to get a job when you already have one.”

Another student, Elvin, was in the middle of moving his family from Puerto Rico to Orlando when the pandemic hit. Furloughed from his position as a banquet manager, he decided it was time to expand his skill set through the Culinary Training Program. Elvin already has more than two decades of experience in front-of-house roles — and he’s confident that mastering back-of-house skills will make him a more adaptable and valuable employee.

Soon, Elvin, Frank and their classmates will be getting back to work — with a host of new skills to add to their résumés. In the last year alone, the Second Harvest program held three 16- week sessions and certified 44 graduates in culinary and professional skills. Since its inception, 373 students have graduated, and 91% of individuals who were homeless upon graduation now have stable housing.

But students aren’t the only ones who benefit. In restaurant and hospitality businesses, skilled and dedicated employees are hard to come by at the moment. Still recovering from the pandemic, it’s not easy for companies to cover the costs of hiring, turnover, in-house training or wage increases. For employers, the Culinary Training Program is a win-win.

“Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida has been an instrumental partner for us and provided our Orlando hotels with outstanding employees,” said Rosanna Maietta, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association Foundation. “As the hospitality industry recovers from the pandemic, Second Harvest will play a critical role in connecting job seekers with fulfilling, lifelong careers in the industry.”

More than a year after news of the pandemic broke, it’s clear that healing after COVID-19 isn’t as simple as “getting back to work.” We need long-term solutions, not short-term patches. Through proactive initiatives like the Culinary Training Program, we can create a pipeline of skilled workers who are equipped to build careers while giving businesses a chance to hire talented candidates.

Whether you’re a restaurant owner who hires one of our graduates, an event planner partnering with the program for catering, or a donor to Second Harvest Food Bank, you’re helping to build a stronger community — not just today, but for years to come.


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