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For Little Rock, North Little Rock and Central Arkansas

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Teach kitchen skills
By Jack Sundell

Whatever the economic environment, we love to eat out. The average American spends more than 50 percent of his or her food dollar dining out. As long as we need restaurants, restaurants need reliable and well-trained kitchen staff. Why not create a pool of qualified applicants by reaching out to economically disadvantaged young adults through a not-for-profit kitchen skills training course?

Here's how it would work: Chefs from the Little Rock area would create a 10-week curriculum to teach desirable kitchen skills to students with little or no restaurant experience. Classes would include ServSafe Certification (a comprehensive, accredited food safety course), knife skills, sauce making, baking and pastry making and wet and dry cooking techniques — all the practical know-how a chef likes to see in a new hire, wrapped into an intensive hands-on culinary course. Students would learn usable job skills; chefs would train their own future employees.

At the course's conclusion, a placement program would match graduates with participating restaurants. The student then would begin a 10-week paid internship at a member restaurant; if the trial period went well, the intern would stay as a full-time employee.

Course participants could include at-risk youth, young adults seeking a new career or an alternative to college, or anyone else the traditional education system has failed to provide an opportunity for. The program would fund itself partially through grants, but would also solicit paid restaurant memberships for its intern placement program. Restaurants could also sponsor an individual student for the 10-week course by paying his or her tuition.

Everyone benefits in this scenario: Restaurants by not wasting time and money for on-the-clock training of inexperienced personnel; course participants (and their families) by entering the job market; the city from more stable jobs and fewer jobless; and the people of Little Rock, who all like to go out for a good meal once in awhile.

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