Foodlink Career Fellowship
About this program
The Foodlink Career Fellowship is a one-of-a-kind culinary training program that creates a pathway to prosperity for individuals with barriers to sustainable employment. Fellows accepted into the program go through an intensive, yearlong curriculum that includes both classroom and hands-on training within Foodlink’s state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, and will graduate into middle-skills careers in the regional food industry. In 2019, the Fellowship became an official New York State Registered Apprenticeship Training program — and in 2020, it was awarded nearly $1 million in NYS Workforce Development Initiative funding.
Throughout the program, Fellows assist Foodlink’s kitchen staff in preparing healthy meals for Rochester children, and work in the Community Kitchen’s processing center, where Foodlink continues to expand its apple-slicing operations. Fellows also learn culinary skills via Rouxbe, a world-renowned online culinary training program, and work on essential soft skills development. The final months of the program are spent with a regional employer at an externship that matches their area of focus.
To date, one class of 8 Fellows has graduated from the program — all finding jobs in the regional food industry.
When Foodlink relocated and expanded its commercial kitchen in 2016, it was always a goal to maximize this significant investment and uphold our responsibility to address the root causes of hunger in our communities. It became clear that workforce development — or career empowerment — would be a key pillar that guided the success of this new facility.
In partnership with Wegmans Food Markets, we spent more than two years crafting a curriculum with input from dozens of local and national partners and stakeholders. We realized our goals needed to be lofty. The culinary training program we were designing needed to prepare participants for middle-skills careers with upward mobility — not minimum wage jobs. And as many employers in the area will attest, middle-skills jobs exist in the food industry, however there often isn’t a trained workforce to meet employers’ needs.
Although Foodlink has decades of experience with workforce development through the Monroe County Work Experience Program and the City of Rochester Summer of Opportunity Program, this is our most ambitious program to date. In July of 2018, we welcomed in our inaugural class — the first of many for the Foodlink Career Fellowship.
Foodlink could not have built this program without input, support and guidance from regional employers, the community partners who nominated the members of our inaugural class, and, of course, the bold funders who took a chance on this initiative.
Employers such as Wegmans Food Markets, which took on the entire first class for the externship portion of program, were instrumental in this process and critical to its success. Other employers such as the Kelaron Group, Palmer Food Service, LiDestri Foods, Barilla, Monroe Community College, and the University of Rochester all helped shape the curriculum to address the workforce needs of the Finger Lakes region. We also leaned on the national expertise of our friends at Catalyst Kitchens, and community partners to nominate prospective Fellows, and provide support as they progress through the program.
The pilot year of the program was made possible through the financial contributions of three major funders: The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, William and Sheila Konar Foundation, and ESL Charitable Foundation. The William and Sheila Konar Foundation also awarded Foodlink a second year of funding to support the Class of 2020.
We are forever grateful for their willingness to take a chance on this new endeavor.
Director, Career Empowerment Initiatives
Career Development Specialist