DES MOINES, Iowa — Earlier this month, state officials rewarded 22 businesses with $50,000 of the Future Ready Iowa Employer Innovation grants. These grants will give up to a thousand Iowans new job skills. One of the recipients was the Iowa Restaurant Association. With this grant, they plan to expand ProStart, which is their high school culinary program. This program is dedicated to teaching teens about career opportunities in the restaurant industry.
“The restaurant industry is a great place to make a career. One in three people have started in the restaurant industry as a first job, and what we’re trying to do is capture their imagination and have them see a career path all the way through to something that they can make a meaningful, lifelong career with.” Jessica Dunker, CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association.
In this program, students learn about the culinary and management sides of the restaurant business. The Iowa Restaurant Association puts these teens in a four-semester course where they get the opportunity to work with chefs, managers, purveyors and other professionals in this industry. Dunker said food service is set to grow by 10.3%, providing 16,000 more jobs in Iowa by 2028. As high schoolers are working to figure out their career paths, the Iowa Restaurant Association wants to inform them about the money to be made in the this industry.
“It’s not just an entry level minimum wage job that we are trying to get people interested in,” Dunker said. “We want them to see the full spectrum of careers that they can build and income levels that are infinite from the standpoint of entrepreneurship and/or building a corporate career.”
The Future Ready Iowa Employer Innovation grant will help the Iowa Restaurant Association bring more of a variety of industry professionals to the classroom to form mentorships with these teens. This grant also allows the Iowa Restaurant Association to take these kids out of the classroom to corporate headquarters to see the different job opportunities these companies provide. Dunker said food service is the second largest private sector employer in Iowa and will continue to grow each year, which is why teens need to know there is unlimited possibilities in this industry.
The Iowa Restaurant Association also has a ProStart Invitational event every year where students compete in competitions similar to Top Chef and Shark Tank. For the first half of the day, a group of students will have to make a full course meal and be judged by well known chefs. For the other half of the day, they’ll be tasked with making a business plan to be analyzed by a panel of industry professionals. The grant they received will also go to this initiative.
Not only will this grant allow the the Iowa Restaurant Association to expand to more schools and provide more resources to their students, it also helps them expand their scholarship opportunities for those interested in the industry. If you know someone going into food service and/or hospitality, they can find the scholarship application at https://restaurantiowa.com/.