One of my favorite restaurants is a little, family-owned place in south Richmond that offers the best handmade onion rings. The restaurant opened in 1966, the same year Virginia opened its first two community colleges. I’ve been eating there for a long time. Many of its staff members feel like old friends. Not long before the pandemic, they celebrated one lady’s 40th anniversary as an employee.
My family takes the pandemic seriously, so we haven’t been there, or anywhere, much lately. I think about those folks a lot though, and not just because they show up in my social media feed. Will they make it through this winter, I wonder?
An Industry in Crisis
They were my first thought when this headline hit my news feed: Restaurant Industry in Free Fall; 10,000 Close in Three Months.
“More than 500,000 restaurants of every business type—franchise, chain, and independent—are in an economic free fall… And for every month that passes without a solution from Congress, thousands more restaurants will close their doors for good.”
The piece goes on to say that nearly one-fifth of restaurants across the nation have closed long-term or for good, and the news continues to get worse for those hanging on.
“Fifty-eight percent of chain and independent full-service operators expect continued furloughs and layoffs for at least the next three months.”
What can our community colleges do to help these people? After all, the tables they served and the kitchens they ran might just be gone forever.
Transferable Skills in Demand
I reached out to ask Laura Clark. She runs the VCCS Student Success Center now and used to be a career coach at Camp Community College.
Clark says there are a lot of good options for these folks in our FastForward program. The magic happens when we can help former restaurant workers understand their own transferable skills.
“If you waited tables,” Clark said. “Then you probably learned how to read people really well, anticipate needs, and you have good attention to detail.”
Healthcare, she says, is a natural landing spot for people with that experience. Becoming a certified medical assistant, or a phlebotomist (if you don’t mind the sight of blood) could be natural fits. So too could becoming a medical scribe or medical coding professional.
“I’ve seen these folks keep 200 different drink codes in their heads,” Clark said. “That kind of attention to detail, and accurate short-term memory, are really desirable skills.”
That’s just the front of the house, Clark says. Those who thrived in the “organized chaos” of a professional kitchen can focus intently while working in high-pressure environments.
While these examples are generic, they are just some of the options individuals with restaurant experience could explore and get credentialed in quickly at their community college.
“Restaurants are just incredible training grounds for a number of highly-demanded skills,” Clark said. “It’s just a matter of helping people understand how that experience translates to other fields. Our coaches, advisors, and navigators thrive on helping folks do that.”
So, if you’ve lost your restaurant job, or know someone who has, reach out to your community college and let us help you order up your next opportunity.
Connecting the Dots is a regular feature of the VCCS Blog where we explore news, events, and trends through the lens of what they could mean for the future of community colleges.