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Perham students can explore careers in the food business

Despite all the gloom and doom news on the economy, food service is an industry with a steady stream of jobs.

In response to this demand for workers and managers, Perham students can learn about the food business in the classroom.

Perham High School recently announced that it will be implementing the ProStart program during the 2008/2009 school year.

"There are careers available in the hospitality industry. The state of the economy doesn't have as much of an affect as we thought," said Mary Karkela, family and consumer science instructor at the Perham schools for the past 13 years. "There is still a big demand for chefs."

ProStart is a two-year high school restaurant and foodservice management curriculum that blends classroom learning with mentored work experience.

Perham will be the first school in about the northern half of the state that offers the food service vocational program. The course is offered at some schools in the Twin Cities metro area and the southwest part of the state, noted Karkela.

The ProStart curriculum was developed by the National Restaurant Association Solutions with guidance from educators and representatives of the restaurant and foodservice industry, and is currently being implemented by more than 1,600 schools in 47 states, territories and districts, with approximately 60,000 students enrolled nationwide. 39 high schools in Minnesota offer the ProStart program.

A resort owner in the Perham school district brought information on the program to Karkela, and the curriculum was supported by the school administrators.

"I anticipate a lot of interest in the program. I'm very excited about it," said Karkela. The class will be one trimester, and cover topics ranging from food preparation and menu planning to human resources and management.

The popularity of food programs on television has helped to further interest in the culinary arts, she added.

Karkela traveled to Atlanta, Georgia in June for a one week training in ProStart at the Culinary Institute of Atlanta. This training was made possible from a Carl Perkins grant awarded by Lakes Country Service Cooperative and the assistance of Inger Churchill, Perkins/Tech Prep Specialist.

Foodservice is one of the nation's fastest-growing industries, currently employing 12.8 million workers. The industry is expected to add 2 million jobs over the next decade, with 47,000 of those positions in management.

"There is a wealth of diverse opportunities for young people in the restaurant and foodservice industry," said Mary Karkela. "The ProStart program will help us prepare students for those opportunities and establish a foundation for further learning whether the students immediately pursue foodservice careers or go on to hospitality management or culinary programs at the college level."

The ProStart program gives high school students the chance to explore career opportunities and gain the skills needed to operate and manage a foodservice operation by pairing classroom learning with on-the-job experience. As part of the ProStart program, Perham High School will combine academic classroom work with the opportunity for students to participate in mentored work experiences at local restaurants. During the mentored work experience, students get hands-on experience in different areas of the foodservice industry. They work directly with industry professionals who serve as mentors to make sure the students are getting as much as possible out of the work experience and have the chance to practice what they learn in the classroom.

When students meet academic standards, complete a checklist of competencies and participate in at least 400 hours of a mentored work experience, they are awarded the ProStart National Certificate of?Achievement that signifies they are well qualified to enter the industry workforce. For students who achieve the National Certificate of Achievement, the NRA Solutions has established scholarships and articulation agreements with leading colleges and universities.