SoDel pilots ‘apprenticeship beyond the trades’ program created by Delaware Restaurant Association and Dept. of Labor

The first class of young restaurant workers in the state’s new Registered Apprenticeship Program, sponsored by SoDel Concepts.

The first class of young restaurant workers in the state’s new Registered Apprenticeship Program, sponsored by SoDel Concepts.

State and restaurant industry officials will unveil the nation’s first Registered Apprenticeship Program for culinary professionals on May 29. Rehoboth Beach-based SoDel Concepts is sponsoring the pilot program for eight apprentices, who actually is already under way.

The two-year Cook Apprenticeship Program combines 4,300 hours of on-the-job training and classroom education. The effort represents a “professional, modernized approach to workforce development that we see as apprenticeship beyond the trades,” said Delaware Restaurant Association President and CEO Carrie Leishman.

The state’s 2,000 restaurants and food-service establishments employ one out of every 10 Delawareans —
nearly 50,000 people — highlighting the need for a program that can deliver a supply of high-quality employees and structured training with a paycheck on day one, Leishman said.

Lisa Wheeler of SoDel Concepts

Lisa Wheeler of SoDel Concepts

Apprentices will earn certifications and pay increases with the completion of measurable skills assessments in each section.

The program was developed jointly between the restaurant association; the Office of Apprenticeship and Training within the Delaware Department of Labor’s Division of Employment and Training; and the state Department of Education.

The model for apprenticeship is based on the restaurant association’s very successful ProStart program for high-school students, which recently saw a culinary team from Caesar Rodney High School finish 15th out of 46 states in the nationwide competition. ProStart is the leading career initiative in Delaware’s “Pathways to Prosperity” program, reaching more than 3,000 students in 18 local high schools.

“We’re stoked,” Leishman said, adding that she hopes the next group of apprentices can start their training within about 12 months. “This is an important expansion of Registered Apprenticeship programs beyond the traditional trade professions such as construction and plumbing.”

State officials see these programs as an effective “earn while you learn” strategy. In calendar year 2018, the average starting wage for an apprentice was $14.70 per hour ($29,400 per year), with wages upon completion averaging $24.00 per hour ($48,000 per year), according to data on the state’s website. Officials see Registered Apprenticeships providing a significant wage gain and clear career path for entry-level workers as well as ensuring a pipeline of skilled workers for employers.

In SoDel’s case, the eight apprentices were already employed by the company and recommended by their managers for the program.

“SoDel Concepts is both honored and excited to be the company to launch this exciting new program,” said Lisa Wheeler, director of human resources at SoDel Concepts. “As the restaurant industry continues to grow in Delaware, there are so many opportunities for young people looking to start a professional career. This program will help ambitious young people to realize their dreams and see that there is a clear path to advancement and competencies.”

SoDel Concepts is an award-winning, chef-driven restaurant group that includes 11 Sussex County restaurants; a wedding, events, and restaurant venue; a catering company; two hospitality-management and consulting companies; and SoDel Cares, a charitable nonprofit.