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Pellissippi offers culinary course

Nearly 30 residents of Knoxville’s Empowerment Zone are completing a six-month culinary arts training program that could help counter a shortage of skilled cooks and chefs in the local food service industry.

The training was made possible through funds awarded by the Heart of Knoxville Career and Resource Center and Pellissippi State Technical Community College as part of its Empowerment Zone workforce training contract. The Career Center is located in the college’s Magnolia Avenue campus, 1610 E. Magnolia Ave.

The culinary arts program, operated by the University of Tennessee, is one of five currently funded to provide free specialized job skills training and placement assistance to residents of Knoxville’s Empowerment Zone.

The Career Center solicited proposals from businesses, community-based groups and grassroots organizations to provide specialized job training for eligible Empowerment Zone residents. Projects that were selected were awarded short-term contracts to provide the training.

Local food service industry leaders anticipate a shortage of perhaps as many as 200 cooks and chefs in the next five years. The university submitted a proposal to the career center in response to that projection.

Instruction is provided at the UT commercial kitchen on Cumberland Avenue, under the direction of John Antun, a faculty member in the Department of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Students attend afternoon or evening classes, and Antun said most participants already have been offered full-time employment in local restaurants or food service operations as soon as they graduate next month.

Even before the first participants graduate, the program is making an impression in the local food service community. Students earned a top award in a highly competitive cooking contest in October.

Participants in the training program, in cooperation with ARAmark Services, UT’s food service provider, entered the Star Chefs of East Tennessee competition, a fund-raiser for the local March of Dimes.

Against about 20 of the top chefs in the area, the students earned one of two first-place awards. Their award was in the table presentation category, which takes into account both the food preparation and the food presentation.

“When they found out they won, they were so excited,” Antun said. “Back when we started in August, many of the students interviewing for this class were homeless. Now they’re working, have a place to live and can support themselves.”

Other pre-apprenticeship training programs are operated by local trade unions for industrial and commercial painting contractors, sheet metal workers and insulation-asbestos workers. A program for carpenters is operated by East Tennessee Mechanical Contractors Inc., a minority-owned and operated company that provides training in such skills as housing rehabilitation and repair.

The training programs help participants overcome barriers affecting employment, including transportation, child care, homelessness, limited education and criminal records. Participants earn stipends while attending classroom instruction and eventually earn wages during on-the-job training opportunities

The Heart of Knoxville Career and Resource Center, which opened in February 2002, was created through the combined efforts of Pellissippi State, the city of Knoxville, the Partnership for Neighborhood Improvement and Workforce Connections to help meet workforce training and employment needs within the Empowerment Zone.

Funds for the Career Center come from Pellissippi State, the city of Knoxville and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Career Center provides career development services, including resume/cover letter assistance, employment skills workshops, job search assistance and referrals, scholarships for short-term job skills training, and other support services. The center also provides recruitment and retention assistance to businesses that serve the Knoxville area.

On-site partners offer other services such as basic computer training, GED preparation, English as second language training, specialized health care training programs and other programs to help improve participants’ abilities to become more self-sufficient.

Knoxville’s Empowerment Zone is a 16-square-mile area of downtown that qualified for special federal funds to help overcome poverty, poor housing conditions, high unemployment and low education levels.

“We offer many opportunities for individuals to prepare for and locate full-time employment opportunities,” said Cynthia Dirl, director of the center. “The culinary arts program has been a real success story, just as the other training projects have been. The ultimate success is when participants not only gain employment but excel in their chosen field.”

 For more information, call 865-329-3166.


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