Preparing workers for jobs in the food system
When 52 restaurants opened in Worcester in a single year, local Worcester nonprofits, government agencies, and educational institutions saw an opportunity to help local food businesses succeed and expand job opportunities for local residents. With support from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and numerous partnerships around the city, the newly formed coalition became Working Cities Worcester (WCW).
As part of this project, WCW offered a 50-hour culinary job-training program to people interested in gaining the skills needed to become successful food-industry employees. Some food-industry workers also enrolled in the course to update their ServSafe certifications and gain additional skills.
Upon completing the training, graduates received four certificates and one-on- one job-placement assistance from a case manager at Worcester Community Action Council. Twenty-six students graduated from the culinary training in 2017. Eighteen were placed in jobs in the culinary field, including in kitchens at Worcester Public Schools and Clark University, both of which were strong supporters of the program.
WCW worked with a group of small restaurant owners, many from the Main South community who are not part of other business associations. WCW helped these businesses identify loan opportunities for kitchen improvements and share restaurant best practices such as menu design. Some restaurant partners connected with Clark University, where they were spotlighted during lunch in the dining hall. The group discussed tools that would help them succeed, such as a multilingual guide to permitting from the city’s Inspectional Services Department.
WCW also has assisted with the staff training program in the School Nutrition Department at Worcester Public Schools. Donna Lombardi, the nutrition director, wanted to improve the quality of food served in the schools and found that one way to do this was through a highly skilled workforce. With help from WCW, she changed the hiring pattern at the schools to promote staff who had more relevant skills and credentials, regardless of their tenure in the school system. With a better-trained staff, the schools can now purchase more produce from local farms and serve fresh and culturally relevant food to the students.
WCW intends to continue supporting Worcester’s food economy by convening all actors in the food sector and identifying needs and areas of success.