Food, of course, is essential for life – which makes food service essential to culture.
According to the U.S Department of Commerce (Bureau of Economic Analysis), the food service industry generated $896 billion in gross output (receipts) in 2019. The National Restaurant Association reports 15.6 million U.S. employees. Given the total employed population of the United States (pre-COVID-19) was about 156 million, that means one in 10 U.S. workers are in food service... and they all need to be trained, on-the-job or formally.
Recently, IACET met with Brad Barnes, director of consulting and industry programs at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and David Kamen, assistant director of CIA Consulting. CIA was founded in 1946, with a mission to train returning WWII veterans as chefs. Today, the college offers accredited, conferred degrees from Associate to Master’s. Education covers all aspects of food service, including baking and pastry, beverage services, food business management, culinary arts, culinary science, applied food studies, and hospitality management. The following are excerpts from our conversation:
IACET: How long have you been with CIA?
Brad: Just about 12 years now; I started as Senior Director of Culinary Education.
David: 21 years; I started as a faculty member; I have worked with the Continuing Education consulting department, and for the past 8 or 9 years, I have been full time with the consulting team, first as a Project Manager and now as Assistant Director. I am also the one who manages our relationship with IACET and maintains our compliance activities, like design documents and record keeping.
IACET: How many IACET CEUs do you award per year (recent years)?
CIA: It is in the hundreds, not the thousands. The volume has ebbed and flowed over the years. At one point, we had a very robust professional development catalog, but we have changed our business model to accommodate changes in the food service industry, as food service professionals’ schedules have become more challenging, reducing their availability, and in some cases even their ability to afford individualized training. In recent years, our business model had been engaging more at the enterprise level – for example, with food service companies to educate their staff, or working on recipe development, or helping to reengineer operations. But now, with the public’s perception of online learning improving, we have begun to ramp up our CEU and career development credentialing programs.
IACET: What is the CE/T courses you present most often?
CIA: It would probably be the foundation programs, which ladder up to our Pro-Chef certification program. We have a variety of workforce level or basic entry level skills, and then a variety of professional development programs that build on the basics, so the line cooks can get the skills that they need to become sous chefs or executive chefs. And then we follow that up with a credentialing program that validates specific skill sets. Much of it is labor force development, but we also have advanced specialties that reflect the world’s shifting diets toward a more plant-forward, sustainable source of nourishment.
IACET: Do you offer any unusual, surprising, or strange courses?
CIA: Those would probably be in change management. We help the food service industry learn to manage change. So, certain companies might decide they want their staff to learn to cook with fire. Or we may do concept design, like teaching people how to go from an idea to saleable product.
IACET: So why do you work with IACET?
CIA: We find our learners really see the value in having those continuing education units. For example, dietitians need continuing education credits to maintain their certification. And some of our culinarians who are achieving certification from other agencies like the American Culinary Federation also need that documentable continuing education history. We think the IACET seal sets us apart from other program providers. We are the gold standard. Our degree programs are highly accredited and underwritten through Middle States and others, and we want our continuing education and professional programs to have the same prestige. We provide businesses with third-party validation. International accreditation is especially meaningful in China, South America, and the Middle East. The military loves it, too.
IACET: So, what sort of problems has the accreditation process helped your organization avoid, or what might otherwise go wrong without the rigor of the process?
CIA: One of the most valuable parts of the process is focusing on feedback from the learners, and I think that can become an afterthought for some providers who put out a typical survey and never act on the feedback. We take the surveys very seriously. In fact, we will often attach a critical piece of bait to the surveys – for example, requiring the student to complete the survey to get a link to our presentation materials. We just completed our recertification. And one of the things that was particularly valuable to me was the course design document itself. The application asked about needs analysis: How do we come up with new classes? What type of needs analysis do we do? Because of the nature of our business, a lot of the needs come directly from clients who call us about a specific issue and then we build a course around that. But to think through course design and objectives, and what activities support that learning objective – that is critical to effective course development. Your process acts like a beacon for everyone to follow.
IACET: Looking back on your time in training and development, what is the most important lesson you have learned?
CIA: The discovery process. We call it client diagnosis – understanding where people want to get through the services you are offering and then designing the program to get them there. Let us say someone comes to us asking how to make soup. But through the discovery process, you may realize what they really want is a way to develop attractive flavors that are easy to eat quickly. Careful needs analysis helps you read between the lines. Some companies may say they need a program to teach their salespeople how to cook. But they really do not want to teach them how to cook. They want to teach them to be better partners with their culinary clients and learning to cook may not be the answer to that challenge. So, it is often more about mastering the business of cooking and less about learning how to make sautéed Chicken Provençal.
IACET: What was the hardest thing about going through the accreditation process?
CIA: It is having documentation for everything that we do and for every decision that we make. To show that we are hitting all the different types of learners, all different learning activities, that learning activities are associated properly with objectives. It is going back to different courses over the years to figure out which is going to be a good example of a course where we really hit all the different elements, where we have all that evidence, like surveys. So, it is just the record keeping.
IACET: What learning management system do you use?
CIA: Right now, we are using Moodle, primarily because our education counterpart uses it. Of course, the COVID pandemic forced everyone into remote learning, and having an LMS is essential.
IACET: Do you have a micro-credential program?
CIA: Yes! I took IACET’s badging course about a year ago. We are issuing badges for our credentialing program, and for some custom training programs as well. Our clients have found a lot of value in that portable, shareable credential.
IACET: What do you think the training process will look like in the future?
CIA: A lot more of it is going to be portable, and we are already seeing that. But it is important to remember that the culinary arts are a very tactile career. While other programs are solely focused on putting things online, making them more phone or tablet compatible, we still must teach people how to pick up a knife and cut something, and how to make food taste good. Until the day comes that we can taste remotely, we will still need that in-person component. So, for us the challenge is finding the right balance of what can be done digitally and what must be done in person. I remember when the internet was young, and there was a lot of bad information out there. I think there is going to be a lot of sifting. But carrying the Culinary Institute of America seal separates us from the chaff. It tells people “This is the real thing.” Accreditation does the same.
IACET: What one wish would you have for the training industry?
CIA: In the United States, we talk a lot about “accessibility,” but if you look globally at who needs to be trained in food services, you must notice the massive populations in India, China, and elsewhere, who need industry-specific, job-based training that will not cost them as much as a college degree. Before COVID, our industry had a shortfall of trained people, maybe as much as 35%. During the pandemic, that statistic flipped, because demand dropped. But this will right itself. It may take as much as 3-5 years, but we will be right back where we were, with a shortage of trained food service professionals. So, from an operational standpoint, a food handling standpoint, or a safety standpoint, I would like to see a new system, perhaps scholarship-based, that gives people in both remote and heavily populated areas access to the skills they need to provide an enjoyable, healthy, sustainable diet for everyone on earth.
I have found that whenever there is an economic hiccup, one of the first things that gets cut is the training budget. But with people’s schedules less confined by work, now is the time for more training, not less.