Michigan program connects former incarcerates to restaurant jobs

Michigan is one of four states to launch a new program to connect people exiting the criminal justice system to restaurant jobs.

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation has received $ 4 million for the program and will use the funds to launch the Hospitality Opportunities for People (re) Entering Society (HOPES) professional skills program.

Michigan, Delaware, Ohio and Texas have received grants to train and prepare formerly incarcerated people for jobs and careers in the restaurant, restaurant and hospitality industries.

The hospitality industry is known to be a first job opportunity and a second chance for people of all walks of life, said Amanda Smith, executive director of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“There is a lot about the restaurant industry that I find attractive,” she said. “There is a low barrier to entry, but there is no real cap on how far you can go in this industry. “

Connecting previously incarcerated people with jobs in the hotel and restaurant industry has been an ongoing conversation since 2017, Smith said. Around this time, the MRLA surveyed business owners and found that many were interested in hiring those coming out of the system, Smith said.

“We certainly need more employees than ever before,” she said. “The pandemic has taken its toll on a lot of things within the industry, but certainly on employees. The relationship goes back much further than the pandemic, however, and we’ve been working to fill the void. “

The restaurant association worked with the Michigan Department of Corrections to add food safety and sanitation certifications to MDOC’s vocational training.

Michigan Vocational Villages began in 2016 and offer training in carpentry, plumbing, electrical and computer coding, among other trades.

When operating at full capacity, the Handlon Correctional Institution Vocational Village has 165 vocational students, according to the MDOC website. The Parnall Correctional Institution Vocational Village site can accommodate 240 vocational students. The program is expanding to the Washtenaw County Women’s Prison this year.

Currently, the employment rate for those released from state prison is around 30%, MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said. Those who enroll in a professional program see that rate double to over 60%, he said.

“We have a lot of people who are going to be out of prison soon and who are very motivated,” Gautz said. “If we can train them while they’re with us, so that they can go out and find a job, and never come back and be able to not only support themselves, but also support their families and their communities. , it’s an all-around win.

The HOPES program will be an extension of this work to reintegrate incarcerated people into the labor market, Gautz said.

“Our prisons are in some parts of the state, but our prisoners go back to all 83 counties,” he said. “There are restaurants everywhere and there are needs everywhere. The goal is for there to be people who come from all over the state and hopefully can come in and cook some really great food for people all over the world.

Upon leaving the professional village, individuals will have in hand certifications and resumes. The HOPES program will be the connective tissue that links them to local work placement programs.

Local programs, serving areas around Detroit, Saginaw and Flint, can provide progress recordings as well as wrap-around services like housing and transportation assistance, Smith said.

The HOPES program itself also aims to take a holistic approach by integrating training on food waste reduction and restaurant financial management.

“[It adds] understanding the operational part of it as well, ”said Smith. “Understand how your role in food work plays into the company’s overall ability to be sustainable. “

The program will start on January 1, 2022 and will last for three years. People released from prison or prison will be eligible.

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