The Department of Labor’s commitment to apprenticeships spurs a new educational program between foodservice and hospitality.

Tell me about the Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship project. How did it come into being?

Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) invested $90 million in Apprenticeship USA to help states accelerate apprenticeship strategies and grow programs in new industries to provide economic opportunities for more Americans. To fulfill that goal, the DOL accepted proposals from different industries and sectors that had not formally participated in apprenticeship, and one of those sectors was hospitality.

Working closely with American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), we responded to the DOL’s request for proposals and were awarded a $1.8 million contract to develop the first-ever Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship (HSRA) program. Our agreement includes renewal of the funding over the next four years.

Is the hospitality side of restaurants sometimes overshadowed by the culinary?

Culinary skills—tossing together fresh ingredients or topping off a mouthwatering pastry—often do overshadow other skills that are just as important, such as management and front-of-the-house training. Culinary skills are alluring, but without talented people to manage the operations and overall success of a restaurant, restaurant owners still run the risk of quickly going out of business.

Opportunity in this industry is limitless—and while we absolutely need chefs, we also need people who understand all aspects of restaurant and hotel operations. With restaurant management, for example, our apprentices will learn a variety of skills ranging from product quality and cost control to creating a positive customer experience.

What are the prerequisites for candidates to be considered?

Qualified apprentices must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED equivalency and follow any other prerequisites that exist for the employer running the apprenticeship program. Employers can bring current employees into the apprenticeship program or make new hires, whichever they prefer.

We also included incentives for students from ProStart, the NRAEF’s high school career and technical education program, to become apprentices. Any student who completes the ProStart Certificate of Achievement (COA) is automatically eligible to enter HSRA for restaurant manager. And with approval from their employer, ProStart COA graduates can earn up to six months of apprenticeship credit.

What skills will they (the apprentices) learn?

In collaboration with AHLA, we created a set of competencies in the lodging and restaurant industry, which serve as the underpinning for the entire apprenticeship program. These competencies are the first of their kind, aligning with professional credentials in hospitality and are incredibly comprehensive. They range from fundamentals of managing daily restaurant operations to restaurant leadership to food safety management and more. Our subject matter experts worked to ensure we covered the full range of skills needed to thrive in hospitality.

What are the advantages to restaurateurs, chefs, foodservice leaders, etc. to participating in HSRA?

The business case for HSRA is impressive: Apprenticeship programs are proven to reduce turnover costs, increase productivity, and create a more skilled, diverse, and competitive workforce. Plus, with DOL’s support, the NRAEF will give restaurant employers $1,000 per apprentice to pay for classroom training, transportation, housing, or childcare. In some cases, local workforce investment boards can even reimburse employers for up to 75 percent of wages apprentices earn over six months. Each of these benefits makes apprenticeship a win-win for the entire industry.

How do restaurants go about in participating in this program?

The first step is contacting us to set up an implementation consultation where employers will receive step-by-step guidance from the NRAEF on how to get started with a registered apprenticeship program. From there, we give employers one-on-one support, providing technical assistance and managing administrative burdens to make the entire process as simple as possible. The NRAEF’s role is handling the entire bulk of the paperwork so that employers can focus on the task at hand: developing apprentices into talented hospitality professionals.

Interested employers in culinary apprenticeships can contact me directly by email at Employers interested in lodging apprenticeships should contact Shelly Weir, senior vice president of career development at the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Foundation, at

How will the success of this program be measured?

Our vision is to demonstrate that we as an organization are making a long-term commitment to creating and supporting a career pathway for employees in the industry, improving retention rates, and creating a more competitive workforce. Our key metric in measuring impact will be our completion rates (the number of registered apprenticeships who complete the program). We also have a goal of bringing in 450 apprentices per year for a total 2,250 apprentices in five years.

Ultimately, apprenticeships will establish an industry standard for training and improve the perception of careers in the restaurant industry, which offer a pathway to a middle-class salary. The DOL’s funding shows they believe in hospitality. Apprenticeships demonstrate how this profession can lead to a fulfilling and rewarding career.

Feature, Labor & Employees, Leader Insights