Redefining workforce preparation

Episcopal Community Services kitchen, healthy communities, Health Forward Foundation, Health Forward

Employable [em-ploi-uh-buhl] adj., n.

Able to be employed; usable; capable of holding a job and available for hire; a person who is able to work and is available to be hired.

While many workforce development programs focus on the skills necessary for someone to be hired or their usability, Episcopal Community Services’ Culinary Cornerstones Training Program (CCTP) has moved the capacity to hold a job to the forefront of their training modality.

As in other workforce programs, the trainees in CCTP receive culinary preparation with professional chefs and the basic skills to get a job (i.e. resume writing, interview skills). They also get the opportunity to further develop those newly acquired skills within the fast-paced Kansas City Community Kitchen.

After 15 weeks of classroom and immersive learning, they progress into an internship, followed swiftly by an apprenticeship, each step building the level of responsibility and culinary skill. 

Internships are hosted at other social service agencies – organizations that work with individuals experiencing extreme life circumstances. Apprenticeships are located in restaurants and food service providers across the city that partner with us.

We believe this phased approach – moving from the Kansas City Community Kitchen to another social service kitchen with first-hand knowledge of trauma to a standard kitchen — helps stair-step trainees into the realities of what work will actually be like. Each step provides new challenges and opportunities, and more self-managed, but supported, opportunities to experiment with their new skills – both technical/culinary and life skills.  The hope is that apprenticeships simply continue into long-term employment, but the capacity varies with each of our professional food service partners as well as with each of our trainees.

The hard skills (i.e. food safety, equipment knowledge, knife skills) learned during their training are essential to being successful in the culinary industry, but they do not determine someone’s long-term employability.

In 2016, the Culinary Cornerstones Training Program was redesigned with long-term employability at the forefront. In working with a culinary advisory committee, key soft skills were identified and curriculum was tailored to meet this newly identified need. Community Care was created to provide wrap-around services that includes the development of soft skills, i.e. attendance, personal responsibility, coachability, and teamwork. Community Care consists of individual and group counseling, case management, and psycho-educational classes focused on life/soft skills. The Community Care team is comprised of a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and graduate level social work interns.

Upon acceptance into CCTP, trainees meet with a Community Care liaison (social worker/social work intern) to begin identifying their strengths and areas of need. This assessment covers all areas of the trainee’s life from basic needs, such as housing and health, to social and spiritual needs. The emphasis on wrap-around programming is initiated at this time as well, ensuring all services and community supports involved in the trainee’s life have ongoing regular communication.

Trainees meet individually with their assigned Community Care liaison on a weekly basis. Together they develop an action plan to address the needs identified during the assessment and any other issues that develop. Action plans specify a trainee-determined goal and the necessary steps or tasks for goal completion. Trainees also attend weekly, psycho-educational classes that cover topics such as, automatic thoughts, speech and reactions; future plans and goal setting; first impressions and effective communication; as well as developing resiliencies.

The weekly counseling groups take the lessons presented in the classes one step further; they cover topics of support systems, substance abuse, mental health and coping skills, grief and loss, and trauma.

Initially trainees can be hesitant or resistant to the social-emotional aspects of the program. Many have not experienced counseling, or have had difficulties in accessing or receiving supportive services in the past. During the first five weeks of the program, the liaisons are focused on engaging the trainees, developing rapport and creating action plans to clarify the role the social-emotional aspects have on employability.

However, typically within the first five weeks, trainees settle into the idea and are willing to engage with their liaisons and fully participate in the counseling groups.

Once trainees enter their internships, they attend Continuing Care, a weekly support group, where on- the-job issues are discussed and explored. Should a trainee or their liaison think they would benefit from continued individual sessions, those can be continued into the second half of the training program.

Community Care emphasizes the strengths of the trainees while working within a trauma-informed program design. A focus on external supports, both personal and professional, is emphasized as the intensive clinical supports of the program are time limited.  

To learn more, you can reach the Episcopal Community Services office at 816-561-8920 or online at

Health Forward Foundation
2300 Main Street, Suite 304
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 241-7006