INA, Ill. (Jan. 21, 2020) — The phone calls don’t stop — restaurants, bars, resorts and even hospitals are all looking for kitchen help. And they are looking to Rend Lake College for prospective hires.
“People are looking for everything,” said RLC Culinary Arts Lead Associate Professor Robert Wilson. “There is a shortage right now, especially for skilled cooks. There is a shortage for all skill levels.”
And Rend Lake College’s Culinary Arts program has several different pathways to meet the industry’s needs. Whether you are looking to get a job in a local kitchen or own your own restaurant, the journey to any option in the food business can begin at RLC.
Wilson and Associate Professor Jeff Fairbanks have been teaching Culinary Arts at RLC for about eight years. The program’s first graduating class was in spring 2007, and since its birth, the college has looked to modernize and retool the program to help address workforce demands.
Students can earn an Associate of Science degree in Culinary Arts Management if they are looking to get into leadership roles such as the ownership or supervising side of the restaurant business. That’s a two-year degree. Or there are two different certificate options for those looking to obtain job skills and enter the workforce as soon as possible. The Baking and Pastry certificate can be earned in three semesters while the Culinary Arts certificate can be earned in two semesters.
“If you want to just get a job — come in, get the skills, get out, go to work — that’s what the certificates are for,” Wilson said. “But if you’re intention is to run a restaurant, become a chef, become a restaurant manager, become a pastry chef, or a bakery owner then we’re going for a two-year degree because that’s where we move in with all the management and business end of it.”
But Culinary Arts students shouldn’t only expect to be in a classroom with their nose in a book. The program offers hands-on training in state-of-the-art kitchen laboratories under the direction of Wilson or Fairbanks. There, students will learn both traditional styles of cooking and new gastronomic innovations.
The associate degree can also be a stepping stone to a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Students can pursue further education in majors like hospitality and tourism, and RLC even has an agreement established with Southern Illinois University-Carbondale where all RLC credits transfer to their program.
Fairbanks said the restaurant industry is the second largest employer in the United States behind the U.S. Government. In Illinois, there are an estimated 588,700 foodservice jobs right now, or about 10% of the state’s employment, according to the National Restaurant Association. Those jobs are expected to grow 7% by 2029.
“And we don’t have enough people to fill all the jobs that are around here right now,” Fairbanks said.
There is also “plenty of dough” to be made in the business, and those with more training in the management side of the business have more earning power. An executive chef in the Midwest earns an average of about $78,000 while a general manager earns about $104,000, according to the American Culinary Federation.
“There’s actually some good money to make. Not only are there a lot of jobs out there, there are a lot of well-paying jobs,” Wilson said.
While jobs are in demand around here, RLC Culinary Arts graduates have been able to find work just about anywhere they want to go. Wilson said they’ve kept tabs on graduates who are working in the local community, urban settings like Chicago and New Orleans, or as far away as Alaska and Thailand. Restaurants, resorts and the healthcare industry are some of the biggest job providers.
“I bet we have a student in every hospital kitchen within a 60-mile radius,” Wilson said. “A lot of them stick around and a lot of them move on into the big cities.”
The Culinary Arts program has also helped spur a local chapter of the American Culinary Federation, which allows the college to keep ties with nearby businesses in the industry. Those ties assist in establishing student internships and future job placement. And the program continues to be active in the community by reaching out to local high schools, providing concessions at college events, and offering classes to locals through Community and Corporate Education.
So, does a career in culinary arts sound like the right fit for you? Rend Lake College can put you on the right track. To learn more about RLC’s Culinary Arts program, contact Academic Advisement at 618-437-5321 Ext. 1266 or [email protected], or visit www.rlc.edu/programs-and-degrees/363-culinary-arts. If you want to keep up with the Community and Corporate Education food courses offered, visit rlc.coursestorm.com.