Standing in the kitchen with a frying pan in one hand and a spatula in the other, Monet Dickens is doing her best to juggle the orders coming in from customers at Groundwork Kitchen in Baltimore, Maryland.
But while the French Cuisine Dickens is preparing will be served to customers here, Dickens isn't technically an employee of this restaurant.
At least not yet.
"My goal is to work on a cruise ship and become a chef there because I love to travel," she explained as the pan in front of her sizzled.
She is part of the Groundwork Kitchen Culinary Arts Training Program's inaugural first-class. Facing massive staffing shortages across the industry, Kimberly Triplett and her team running the restaurant here decided to do something.
"We just wanted to train individuals who want to enhance and better their life," Triplett said.
The initial class of students is from all walks of life, most have very little hospitality experience. In total,14 students are being taught everything from food safety basics to knife skills.
And the entire program is free.
"People aren’t defined by barriers, it’s not that someone is a good worker or isn’t a good worker it’s that with the right supports people can use their skills and start careers," said Ellen Levy, who is also helping to oversee the program.
By knocking down those barriers, the hope is to get more people into the job pipeline at a time when they’re desperately needed. Restaurants have been hit particularly hard by the labor shortage.
According to the National Restaurant Association, 78 percent of restaurants across the country say they don’t have enough employees to meet demand. As a result of being understaffed, 68 percent of restaurant owners say they are either opening late or closing early.
At Groundwork Kitchen their hope is that even if graduating students decide to go elsewhere for full-time employment, the program will be helping to address a labor problem affecting everyone in the industry.
"We hope they see they’re bigger than the barriers facing them right now and hope to instill a love of food service," Ellen Levy said.