Working Towards a Living Wage: Providence's Advanced Training Residency Program

September 20, 2019

The call for higher wages and advanced training has been heard across the Catalyst Kitchens network. In 2018, 30 out of 65 members reported an advanced training component of their programs, 12 of these programs are three months or longer. Our member programs are developing new ways to place students in higher paying jobs to meet or surpass their local living wage. These programs counter the argument that foodservice traditionally provides low wages and few opportunities for advancement. With sound training, case management support, and strong employer partners, Catalyst Kitchens members are placing students into high paying, sustainable positions for long-term success.

Model Member Providence is a leader in this movement and is creating major change for their residents. Take Diana Bethel. Diana has dreamed of opening her own restaurant since she was a child, attracted to the hustle & bustle of making delicious food for others. The culinary environment drew Diana in, but more pressing matters like helping the family business took precedent. Diana was working for her family’s construction business when she heard about the Providence program, a free culinary training program available to the public and designed to help students find work in the culinary field. After years of holding onto her culinary dreams, it was time for Diana to make it a reality. 

Diana started in Providence’s basic 13-week culinary training program and quickly mastered all the skills needed to get started in a kitchen: food safety, preparation, how to read a recipe, basic knife skills, mass food production, and more. When she was offered the opportunity to participate in the two-year paid residency program, she leapt at the chance take on a bigger challenge. 

You come in as a resident and they're expecting more from you. They're expecting more and you want to give them more. You want to show them that you want to work, you're willing to work, you're going to give it your all. – Diana

                When Diana reflects on her transition from Providence’s basic culinary training program to the residency program, noting “with the residency program it's a lot more hands on. You can't just hang back and try to follow along with the rest of the class. You have to be ready to work. When you're going through the training program, you're going over how to work a recipe, how to make a meal. When you're in the residency program, you've got a line of people waiting for orders and you've got to get the orders out. It's definitely a faster pace.”

During residency, students experience many different culinary roles including catering preparation and event execution, pantry, dish pit, and the fast-paced environment of a restaurant line cook. Some even try their hand in Front of House positions such as server or bartender in Providence’s dine-in restaurant. While the program offers a basic structure, students are empowered to forge their own path to move towards their own career goals. The program is designed to prepare students for advanced career paths and management positions later in their careers.

Chef Vanessa, Executive Chef and program advocate, emphasizes empowerment and communication skills throughout the residency program “We make for stronger individuals when we give them the voice to say what's wrong, what's right, what's bothering them, what's working, what's not, rather than always interpreting what an individual may need or not from us.” says Chef Vanessa.

You can't coast through culinary; you've got to work for it. - Diana

Chef Vanessa Lanier and her team aim to create realistic expectations for students during the program so students can thrive in a real kitchen. This includes little tolerance for tardiness, call outs, or inefficiency when working on the restaurant line. This prepares students for their employment after the program while also providing counsel and guidance. “In the community, you are simply an employee, you have a set of expectations, and you're costing someone money.” Chef Vanessa explains. “I don't want to create a bubble for students, real kitchens are hard. You have to be ready.”

Students have a team of support during the program, including their culinary instructors, sous chefs, and a case manager that provides wraparound services and counsel as needed. Chef Vanessa says, “When you work for Providence as an educator, as a chef, as a mentor, you're developing people and you have to be a lot of things for one individual: a chef, a brother, a sister, a neighbor, a counselor, a mother, a father."

The program’s longer training period gives trainees more hard skills and confidence. The advanced training program was partially born out of feedback from Providence’s employer partners that graduates of the basic training program would do well in the kitchen, but an individual who really knew their way around the kitchen and was ready to work would do even better. The longer timeline allows for the Providence staff to describe their students’ advanced skillsets and carefully place students in roles built for their success.

This approach has quite literally paid off. After the 18-24-month residency program, 90% of graduates are earning $13.50 an hour. This is a $4-$6 increase over wages earned by the basic training program graduates, and about $2 higher than the local living wage for a single adult according to MIT’s living wage calculator.  With 95% of program participants defined as financially needy upon entering the program and North Carolina’s minimum wage of $7.25/hour, Providence’s program is creating big opportunities for their residents to build an economically independent career path upon graduation.

Like others in workforce development, Catalyst Kitchens members recognize the importance of earning a “living wage” that accurately depicts the cost of living based on local costs rather than the national federal poverty guidelines. As necessary expenses such as healthcare, food, and transportation are considerably higher in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles versus a rural town in Mississippi, looking at living wage is a more useful benchmark.  


As for Diana, she is well on her way to her next big step in culinary. In October 2018 she joined the catering department for the first phase of her internship, and in May moved to working the restaurant line at Providence Kitchen, the program’s fast casual outlet.  She reports that after three months filling orders during busy breakfast and lunch rushes she is learning new recipes each day to tuck into her culinary toolkit.  “There's never a dull moment in this kitchen.”

 “I'm ready to try as much as I can. I came into this program thinking, well, this is something I want to do, this is going to be super easy, I can handle this.” She says. “Now I think, I can handle this, but this is nothing like what I expected.”

With some hard work and the Providence program’s guidance, we can’t wait to hear about what comes next for Diana.

Learn more about Providence's Culinary Training program here.

Blog Category: 

Job Training

Corinne Molz

Corinne brings experience to her role of Communications Coordinator from her background in event planning, international development undergraduate degree, and her passion for the foodservice job training social enterprise model. Her career goals are devoted to lifting others out of the cycle of poverty through economic empowerment through employment/workforce development. She previously served FareStart as a Catering Captain, Catalyst Kitchens as Program Associate, and currently manages all More