Association Insight
Rob Gifford
Executive Vice President | National Restaurant Association

How does the Foundation support the industry and what are some of it key initiatives?
Each job is an opportunity to launch a career, learn professional and life skills, work for the best in the business or create something new and different. One in three Americans got their first job experience in a restaurant. Nine in 10 managers started in an entry-level position, and eight in 10 restaurant owners say their first job was an entry-level position. While getting in on the ground floor is still a great option, the next generation of restaurant and foodservice talent is looking for a more defined, relevant and customizable path to the top.  They are hungry for the right tools and guidance to succeed.

More than one million restaurants in the U.S. are opening doors of opportunity for people of all backgrounds and cultures every day. They play a key role in supporting the communities where we work and live, and they are looking for talented people who are passionate about the business and see the industry as a life-long career opportunity.  We want to attract the best people possible to this industry and help guide them throughout their journey.

For the past 30 years, the NRAEF has been on the front lines of workforce development, offering educational programs that provide culinary, management, food safety and employability skills training to millions of Americans.  The Foundation’s portfolio of innovative programs continues to shape and lead the future of the industry and is constantly evolving to stay relevant and connected to a dynamic and diversified workforce.

To ensure a healthy future for the industry, we have built an extensive portfolio of workforce development programs, including: ProStart – a high-school career and technical education program; Restaurant Ready – partnering with community based organizations to provide “opportunity youth” with skills training and job opportunities; Military – helping military servicemen and women transition their skills to restaurant and foodservice careers; Scholarships – financial assistance for students pursuing restaurant, foodservice and hospitality degrees; and, the Hospitality Sector Registered Apprenticeship Project – a partnership with the American Hotel & Lodging Association providing a hospitality apprenticeship program for the industry.

What are your goals as the current EVP for the NRA Educational Foundation?
Our mission at the NRAEF is to Attract, Empower and Advance today’s and tomorrow’s restaurant and foodservice talent, a workforce expected to grow to 14.7 million people this year alone. 

With new restaurants, food concepts, dining experiences and innovative services launched every day, the demand for a well-trained and skilled workforce is greater than ever. In fact, the industry is expected to reach $799 billion in revenues in 2017, four percent of the U.S. GDP. Approximately one in 10 Americans currently works in the restaurant and foodservice industry. The number of restaurant businesses owned by women and Hispanics increased by more than 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, and restaurants owned by African-Americans grew nearly 50 percent. Over the next 10 years, the workforce is expected to grow to 16.3 million.

SHFM and our SHFM Foundation have worked together for many years with the NRA Education Foundation on the Hennessy Traveler Program, how have the military foodservice programs (Hennessy and the others) benefitted our armed forces?
More than 250,000 servicemen and women will separate from active duty each year for the next five years and the restaurant and foodservice industry is expected to create more than 800,000 new jobs over that same timeframe.  That is a tremendous opportunity for our military and their families getting ready to separate from the military.

For more than 60 years, the NRAEF and SHFM have supported active duty Air Force personnel through the Hennessy Travelers Program.  Civilian foodservice professionals, known as Military Travelers, visit bases and installations around the world to assist the military in evaluating their dining facilities, food quality, food safety, cost effectiveness and general operating procedures.

What started as a partnership with the Air Force now includes all branches of the military.  Through the Hennessey Travelers program, our servicemen and women learn about opportunities in our industry and are able to match their skills, training and talents with meaningful restaurant, foodservice and hospitality jobs and careers.

In addition to recognizing excellence in military foodservice with our awards dinner at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, our Foundation also conducts the Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence and training program at The Culinary Institute of America and hosts virtual career fairs with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other key veteran service organizations.

What is one key take-a-way you hope to have from your position with the NRA Educational Foundation?
At the NRAEF, we have the privilege to represent and advance this incredible industry. We are the voice for millions of people who are pursuing the American dream.  But, what I love the most is that we are in the business of creating opportunity.
People across all generations, backgrounds and cultures are looking for opportunity in our industry, but they just don’t always know how to find it.