January 23, 2024

Build your workforce with an apprenticeship program

The Restaurant & Hospitality Leadership Center helps restaurants develop the next generation of leaders.
Three chefs in the kitchen

Apprenticeship programs teach employees how to be successful in growing their careers, and that often results in great retention rates.

In an effort to curb staff turnover and strengthen their employee teams, some restaurants are turning to an updated version of the centuries-old apprenticeship model. In 2022, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) helped more than 1,800 apprentices build restaurant careers at over 300 restaurants, with support from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Expect to see more apprentices in coming years. In July 2023, NRAEF was awarded a five-year, $12.2 million DOL contract to open the program to 5,000 new apprentices. 

NRAEF’s Restaurant & Hospitality Leadership Center (RHLC) oversees both the Restaurant Youth Registered Apprenticeship (RYRA), for individuals ages 16-24 living in Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, seeking to enter the restaurant industry through an apprenticeship, and the Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship (HSRA), for individuals countrywide who are at least age 17 and seeking career advancement. RYRA is a four-year initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration’s Youth Apprenticeship Readiness Grant. 

Apprenticeships offer a win-win arrangement for restaurants and employees. “Apprentices get the opportunity to work for a company that believes in them enough to offer additional training, providing a pathway to a leadership role,” says Jim Wilson, RHLC director of professional advancement. “As for the employer, you’re getting employees who want a future in the industry. You’re showing them how they can be successful and grow a career, and the result is great retention rates.” About 80% of RHLC apprentices remain in their training programs until completion. 

Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center in Aurora, Colo., trained four youth apprentices over the past year—all graduates of the NRAEF’s ProStart culinary arts and restaurant management program for high school students. “Every apprentice is still with us, and they’ve all been promoted,” says Michael Klicos, executive sous chef. “These kids come in with the motivation and drive, and all we want to do is train and educate them and turn out great talent,” he adds, noting that apprentices rotate between the resort’s seven restaurant concepts and its banquet facilities. “It’s about supporting a kid who comes out of school with a dream and telling them that instead of paying to go to culinary school, we’ll pay you to learn.” 

The RHLC apprenticeship programs offer three career pathways: line cook, kitchen manager and restaurant manager. Each pathway is competency based, with apprentices learning through on-the-job training and related instruction delivered online or at community colleges. Upon mastering all the competencies, the apprentices earn marketable credentials from both the National Restaurant Association and the DOL.

Apprenticeship advice

If you’re considering offering an apprenticeship program, here are four tips to get started:

  1. Partner with the Restaurant & Hospitality Leadership Center. By teaming up with RHLC, you’ll offer nationally accredited training programs that are attractive to potential apprentices. You’ll have access to a support network, and your apprentices will get related training, either online or in the classroom. There’s no cost for a restaurant to partner with RHLC, and limited funds are available to offset certain program-related costs. In the five states where RYRA apprenticeships are offered, the state restaurant associations help recruit youth apprentices, working closely with ProStart programs at local high schools and with Restaurant Ready training programs in community organizations.
  2. Look for apprentices with growth potential. “I look for someone with a great attitude and a great demeanor—someone asking good questions, who is passionate about the work,” Klicos says. “I can teach them how to grill a steak, but I can’t teach them to care.” 
  3. Offer flexibility. “The business has to be willing to work with each apprentice on a schedule that works for both parties,” says Mindy Larson Crystal, who oversees RYRA in her role as senior manager, Professional Advancement. “One of the key things about a youth apprenticeship is that you have to meet them where they are. You can't expect a current high school senior to work full time.” The same goes for apprentices who want to work around college classes or need flexibility for other life circumstances. 
  4. Commit to mentoring. Recognize that apprentices—especially youth apprentices—are less experienced. “It's important that the business be interested in supporting less experienced workers in becoming skilled,” Crystal says. “They have to be invested in mentoring a new generation.” 

For more information, visit the Restaurant & Hospitality Leadership Center online, or email the center at

The Restaurant Youth Registered Apprenticeship (RYRA) is 100% funded through a $4,999,478.00 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (AP-35087-20-60-A-11). This article content was created by NRAEF and does not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Labor. The Department of Labor makes no guarantees, warranties, or assurances of any kind, expressed or implied, with respect to such information, including any information on linked sites and including, but not limited to, accuracy of the information or its completeness, timeliness, usefulness, adequacy, continued availability, or ownership.