How to Recruit Students During Low Unemployment
The Catalyst Kitchens model is designed to create long-term pathways out of poverty rather than quick fixes. We know that hard culinary skills can help get a student a job and soft skills, like teamwork and communication, will help them KEEP a job. Catalyst Kitchens training programs provide this support to develop long-term career plans with wage progression and career advancement.
What happens when people with barriers to employment can find jobs without our training programs? Recruitment during low unemployment is a challenge across our member network. This year unemployment hit a record low of 3.7% in September 2018. Low national unemployment rates show that jobs are more readily available than ever. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily linked to the overall wage progression that our programs focus on achieving for people in the long run.
We held a session to discuss this very topic at our CK² National Summit in September. Below are a few major takeaways to support your program’s recruitment efforts.
Get the Word Out
Tell your program’s story straight from the source
Graduates are your program’s best advocates. No one can tell their stories like they can, so bring them on recruitment visits to speak to potential students at social service agencies, recovery centers, or retention centers. Graduates can show potential students the long-term effects of the program by sharing where they are today versus where they started. Model Member DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) has hired a previous graduate as one of their student recruiters who can meet people where they are. As a result, “we honestly don’t have a big problem with recruitment” says Liz Reinhart, Director of Workforce Development at DCCK. Enough said.
Hold regular open houses or orientations
Consistency is key. There could be many people interested in your program who have no way to access information about the program. Hold a regular orientation on the same date each week, month, or quarter so interested students know when they can attend. If they miss an orientation because of last minute schedule changes, they’ll know the next time to attend. Interested students may disengage if it is not clear the next time they could learn about the program and potentially enroll.
Incentives Go A Long Way
Raise program wages based on participation
Student enrollment fluctuates all the time, even more so during low unemployment with the temptation of accessible low-paying jobs. Keep your students invested in their future by basing their wages during the program on their participation rates. No missed days equals a larger stipend for the week or incentives like gift cards or stipends for transportation. If your program does not pay a wage during the program, find ways to mark student progress to create the sense of accomplishment when milestones are achieved. It can be difficult to commit to a long-term training program when students want jobs right now, let them know their time will pay off.
Client finder fees
Remember when we said that graduates are your best advocates? Your current or previous students may have friends or connections to people who are interested in stable employment. Institute a referral incentive for students to recruit their friends into the program. Tell students that they will receive their referral bonus once their friend completes the program to establish something akin to mentorship. This helps ensures that only committed students apply. Community Kitchen Pittsburghbrought this idea to the CK² National Summit and has increased their student census and added a bonus mentorship component.
Lean on Your Network
Show your partner agencies your results, don’t tell
Invite your partner agencies to a public student graduation to witness the effects of your program firsthand. Your referral partners have the most contact with your potential students; make them some of your best advocates through education and inspiration. Invest in your relationship and they will be more likely to suggest your program to qualified candidates.
Vocational culinary programs
The name of the game is community. Partner with local vocational programs that are seeking a culinary outlet or identify community colleges that want to provide culinary training and don’t have the capacity. Partnering with similar programs can create new student avenues into your program and expand your potential student pool outside of service providers and referral partners.
These suggestions and many more were shared by Catalyst Kitchens and Feeding America members at our CK² National Summit. Our network is built on the great ideas and conversation among our member organization. For more information on our Membership Program or our National Summit, visit us at www.catalystkitchens.org.