KRA Monthly Spotlight!

This month’s Spotlight! article is the second of a three-part series highlighting an industry vital to the American economy…Hospitality, and the role that KRA programs play in maximizing job development and placement opportunities presented by a significant industry sub-group…the Restaurant sector.  Seven years ago, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reported that the industry presented new and increasing job opportunities as a high-growth sector, and was projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy. However, the 2008-2009 recession hit every industry very hard, with the Restaurant sector being one of the most affected. When the economy nose-dived, consumer discretionary spending plummeted, and with less money people tended to eat out less often.    

The end of 2008…and all of 2009…was a difficult time for the Restaurant industry.  It has only been since the end of 2010 that the industry has started to see a turn-around.  When consumers started to regain their confidence in the economy, they started to eat out once again, and the industry began to experience the kind of growth that DOL projected.  In fact, the National Restaurant Association states, on its website, “The industry is set to outpace National job growth, and to reach record sales in 2012.” KRA programs across the county are taking full advantage of these growth projections for the benefit of both their jobseeker- and employer-customers, and in so doing, are offering solutions that address all six of the “critical workforce challenges” confronting the industry, also cited in the DOL report.

 Challenges #1 and #2,  Image and Recruitment, respectively, were addressed in the July Spotlight!, along with the service-delivery system employed by KRA that ameliorates those obstacles when working with employers to develop jobs, and when placing qualified jobseekers in those jobs.  This issue focuses on two of the remaining challenges, and KRA solutions: Challenge #3Retention: High turnover is a key challenge in the hospitality industry.  KRA Solution:  Programs provide a wide range of pre- and post-placement services through one-on-one sessions with jobseekers, as well as work-readiness workshops.  Along with labor market information (LMI) on the range of opportunities available in this high-demand industry, KRA staff provide on-going encouragement and guidance, and advise that “entry-level” does not mean “dead-end”.  Career development activities emphasize that more important than gaining employment is retaining employment, and that dedication, performance, and perseverance can lead to higher-paying, more responsible  positions.  The overarching message is: you can’t advance on the job if you’re not on the job, thus job retention is not left to chance. Depending on individual program requirements, KRA Career Agents, Employment Specialist, Job Coaches, et al, may provide follow-up retention services for up to 12-months to ensure jobseeker progress and employer satisfaction.

Challenge #4 – Language Skills: Applicable to most industries, language proficiency is key in the restaurant business.  To perform effectively on the job, many food-service workers…hosts, wait-staff, cashiers, etc…need competent verbal skills to interact with patrons, and all workers need to be able to read, understand, and convey critical food-safety requirements.  KRA Solution: After program Orientation, on an as-needed basis, jobseeker-customers undergo a battery of assessments, which can include aptitudes, interests, and skills and abilities…including language skills.  In addition to one-one-one communications to gauge verbal proficiency, KRA Career Agents analyze assessment results thoroughly to match each customer’s suitability to specific employer job-requirements, which might include reading, speaking, and/or writing English satisfactorily.  Job applicants might also encounter additional testing as part of the employer’s interviewing and screening processes. Depending upon the severity of the deficiency, those customers for whom a lack of adequate language skills is a significant barrier to employment, KRA staff ensure that appropriate remediation is provided, either by referral/follow-up with local ESL providers or other resources designed to enhance verbal and/or reading and writing skills.

Recognizing the growth potential within the Restaurant industry nationwide, KRA Employment Specialists and Job Developers across the country are creating strong partnerships with area owners and managers, and are providing them a pipeline of qualified workers.  By way of example, KRA’s Prince George’s County Works Employment and Training Program, in Maryland, provides jobseeker-customers receiving public assistance benefits with wrap-around case management, work-readiness assessment and preparation, occupational-skills training, unsubsidized Community Work Experience, and full- and part-time job-placement opportunities.  Employer-customers are provided intensive recruitment, screening, placement, and follow-up retention services.  PGWorks presents a prime example of how KRA job-development and placement specialists strive to alleviate the workforce shortage experienced by DC metro-area restaurants.  Armed with up-to-date LMI, staff know that the industry is a driving force in the region’s economy: DC metro-area restaurants employ 49,200 people…7 % of total employment; and, that by 2022, are projected to employ 52,500 people…3,300 new jobs, a 6.7 % increase.

Ashleigh Wingfield is a shining example of the dozens of jobseeker-customers who are finding success in the restaurant industry with KRA’s assistance and guidance.  Ashleigh, who is 22 and a single-parent to one child, applied for Temporary Cash Assistance benefits through PGWorks on January 12, 2012.  She had been unemployed for 3 years, after leaving her job as a Crew Member/Cashier at a local fast-food chain outlet.  KRA Career Agent, Jasmine Horton, reported,” Ashleigh was seeking re-entrance into the workforce, and after undergoing orientation and assessment, we determined that her most pressing barrier to employment was a well-written, updated resume. She was articulate, smart, and pursuing an AA degree in Business from Strayer University.  Also, she had 2 years’ experience in the food-service business and was amenable to returning to the industry.  So, when her resume was ready for presentation, I referred her to my colleague LaShon Philson, KRA Job Developer, for additional re-employment assistance.”

Philson, who had been building a business-customer relationship with area managers of the very same fast-food franchise for whom Ashleigh had worked, but had left “on good terms”, recommended her to a local outlet for a Crew Member position…which could include bussing tables, cashiering, filling customer orders…and an interview was scheduled for the following week.  In the interim, guided by Winston-Et Williams, KRA Instructor, Ashleigh honed her interviewing skills and thoroughly impressed the interviewer, who offered her a position on-the-spot.  She started on February 16, 2012, as a Crew Member…Training Coordinator!  However, after only 3 months in the position, Ashleigh’s performance was so stellar, she was promoted to Marketing Manager, covering several outlets in PG County.  From the beginning of her original placement, Ashleigh maintained regular contact with Horton and Williams; worked one-on-one with Philson to enhance her on-the-job communication, e-mail etiquette, and problem-solving skills; and now, 6 months later, is reported to be doing very well.

Anthony Featherstone, KRA Program Manager, concluded, “We are all extremely pleased that individually, and as a team, we were able to help Ashleigh on her road to success in the Restaurant business.  As for our relationship with the company,  Ms. Philson is making steady progress both with current and new outlets.  In fact, the franchisor has a new restaurant opening in mid-September, and has forwarded a number of open positions to us for filling before the vacancies are posted on their website.  So far, we have two Crew Member/Cashier positions filled, at $12 an hour, pending the outcome of the employer’s final pre-employment screening.  We are confident that our partnership with this particular fast-food company, as well as other businesses in the area, will yield very positive results for our customers over the coming months…and years…as the Restaurant industry continues to maintain its high-growth status within the Hospitality industry.”

Next month’s Spotlight! article will conclude this series, focusing on the last two industry challenges…Employability/Soft Skills and Training Models/Skills Certifications…and KRA program solutions.