KRA Monthly Spotlight!

Since its inaugural issue, the KRA Spotlight! has shown brightly on many inspiring stories featuring KRA jobseeker- and business-customers.  In a departure, the next few months’ issues will highlight an industry vital to the American economy…Hospitality…and the role that KRA programs play in maximizing job development and placement opportunities presented by the Restaurant sector, a significant industry sub-group.

From Sunday brunches to Saturday-night dates, and every conceivable drive-through, eat-in, or take-out breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner in between, Americans love to eat out…a lot.  And, because of this trend, the Restaurant industry is booming, reaping huge economic benefits: the industry’s share of an American consumer’s food-dollar is 48 %! 

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a report, after forums with industry leaders and stakeholders revealed that the industry was confronted with at least six critical workforce challenges. However, DOL also discovered that the industry presented new and increasing job opportunities as a high-growth industry, and was projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy.  The National Restaurant Association supports these projections, in stating on its website, “The industry is set to outpace National job growth, and to reach record sales in 2012.”  KRA programs are taking full advantage of these projections for their customers, and in so doing, are offering solutions that address all six of the “critical workforce challenges” confronting the industry.

Challenge #1 – Image: Restaurant jobs are often stereotyped as entry-level and low-wage, with little opportunity for advancement. Consequently, qualified workers are unaware of the range of restaurant careers available.  Thus, when jobseekers visit an employment agency and get placed with local eateries, that’s it…mission accomplished.  But, without information and guidance, they are soon returning to the agency for another job.  KRA Solution:  In contrast, when jobseekers visit a KRA program, they receive a wide range of preparatory services.  For those who are a “fit”, through one-on-one sessions, as well as work-readiness workshops, KRA Career Agents counsel jobseekers on the range of career opportunities available in this high-demand industry. They emphasize that “entry-level” does not mean “dead-end”, and that if they work hard, stick with it, and avail themselves of training offered by employers and external organizations, they can advance to higher-paying positions within the industry.  Also, Career Agents follow-up with employees, and employers, at regular intervals to ensure retention and progress.

 Challenge #2 – Recruitment: Historically the industry relied heavily on the youth labor pool to meet workforce needs.  In recent years, however, the industry has been left with an insufficient number of new workers to satisfy demand. Faced with a shrinking pipeline of workers, the industry is increasing its recruitment efforts towards youth, and developing targeted strategies for previously untapped labor pools.  KRA Solution: KRA Job Developers create strong partnerships with area restaurant owners and managers, and are able to assure them a pipeline of qualified candidates.  KRA’s Work Readiness and Job Placement Program in the District of Columbia (DC) is a prime example of how individual placements and targeted job-fairs contribute to alleviating the workforce shortage experienced by DC metro  restaurants.  Aware of Labor Market Information trends, they know that the DC metro restaurant industry is a driving force in the region’s economy; that currently DC metro restaurants employ 49,200 people…7 % of total employment; and, that by 2022, DC metro restaurants are projected to employ 52,500 people…3,300 new jobs, a 6.7 % increase.

Oneaqua Johnson and Vivian McCray, KRA Career Agents; Eric Shakir, KRA Employment Specialist; and Jovan Butler and Robert Mahon, KRA Job Developers, are dedicated to meeting the recruitment needs of metro DC restaurants.  Johnson and McCray prepare their customers with orientation; assessment of aptitudes, basic literacy/numeracy skills, and interests; career counseling; development of Individual Employment and Responsibility Plans; and post-employment follow-up.  Butler, Mahon, and Shakir offer work-readiness workshops; job-search assistance; and targeted recruitment and placement services.

 KRA customers Sierra Roberts, Sabbirah Tucker, and Jasmine Williams are shining examples of the dozens of customers that are on the road to success in the DC metro area restaurant industry.  All three women are in their early 20’s; are single; have, between them four children; and were receiving public assistance. Two have high school diplomas, and the other, through KRA, has completed classes for the GED exam. They were all struggling with significant barriers to employment…lack of childcare, adequate housing, a stable employment history…but with the team’s intervention, were able to stay focused and motivated.  Tucker was interviewed and hired on-the-spot as a host with Austin Grill in Silver Spring, Maryland, the result of a strong relationship developed by Johnson with the restaurant’s manager; Williams is part of the wait-staff crew at Bobby’s Burger Palace in DC; and Roberts is working as an on-the-line crew member at a DC Chipotle, the result of a “hiring blitz” organized by Butler, Mahon, and Shakir exclusively for the Chipotle Manager, who hired Roberts and two other candidates on-the-spot.  The DC program’s blitz strategy was so successful that, on a weekly basis, other restaurateurs in the region have signed up to participate. 

In the next two issues, the Spotlight! will focus on the other four challenges facing the industry, and the KRA programs in place around the country that are meeting those challenges.