If you graduated from high school before the Reagan era, you were probably taught some basic life skills alongside French, algebra, and ancient history. Shop, Home Ec., and personal finance classes were a regular part of the high school curriculum before the days of high-stakes testing. Today, though, most students don't get lessons on how to interview for a job or write a resume, leaving them wholly unprepared for the job market that awaits. And while the job market remains tough, the irony in this town is that one of our biggest industries, food and beverage, is actually experiencing a staffing shortage. We counted 114 want ads for Nov. 20 and 21 on Craigslist Charleston alone with many of those openings for entry level positions. That's where Teach the Need, a Charleston-based mentorship program aims to help. Charleston Grill GM Mickey Bakst and co-founder Mike Miller started the program three years ago and have since taught students from eight Charleston high schools restaurant skills in addition to general work practices, whether the students aspire to be restaurateurs, doctors, or plumbers.
"A lot of it is just basic professionalism — here's how to write your resume, here's how to dress for an interview, always show up on time, keep your nails clean," says Jason Parrish, Wild Olive owner and Teach the Need volunteer. "We want to prepare the kids for the working world and show them that they can have a rewarding career in hospitality, not just a gig." The teens Teach the Need works with from St. John's High School agree. Take Kayla Wright. She wants to be a nurse practitioner, but first she plans to pay her way through college waiting tables.
As part of the Teach the Need's six-week program, each year students are given a tour of Charleston Place Hotel and Charleston Grill. After the tour, everyone is treated to a four-star lunch at the Grill. For this year's event, the students at our table were already aiming high. Tiera Gadsden dreams of being a physical therapist, Samuel Moreno hopes to be a bartender, and Tikeyah Jenkins and Raymundo Gomez are planning careers in the army. But all agree the hospitality industry is a great introduction to the working world and a stepping stone on the way to their career.
"We've got a huge variety of students," explains John Martindale, the beverage manager of Circa 1886. "Everything from kids applying to Ivy League schools to ones just hoping to finish high school." Teach the Need has placed a lot of students in top Charleston restaurants as server's assistants, like John Simpson, a senior at Fort Dorchester who is being courted by several college football teams and spends his non-training evenings helping out at Halls Chophouse. "Great kid, great athlete," says Tommy Hall, Halls Chophouse GM. "We've actually had three Teach the Need kids work at Halls and also at our sister restaurant Rita's."
Teach the Need aims to teach the kids to be proud of their work and to always strive to be the best, and Parrish says they're succeeding. "Every single one has done every assignment," he says.
After a beautiful four-course lunch at Charleston Grill served by some of the restaurant's career waiters and waitresses, Bakst passes out job applications to the kids and tells them to fill them out and show them to their mentors. "Do it in pencil first," he advises. Before the kids get on the bus to go back to school, he issues the following challenge: "do not let anyone work harder than you do." He offers them all his contact information for the future. "If you're willing to work hard and show up on time, you can learn how to do any job you put your mind to," he says. "My door is always open to you."
If your restaurant would like to talk to graduates of the program, please contact Mickey Bakst of Charleston Place at Mickey.Bakst@belmond.com.