By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When the Phillies open at home on April 5, a new crop of chefs will be doing the catering at Citizens Bank Park.

They’re graduates of a program that’s a model for the new citywide workforce development strategy, unveiled last month.

“The UNITE HERE Philadelphia Hospitality Academy is a great example of the type of collaboration we are looking to replicate in order to reach the goals laid out in ‘Fueling Philadelphia’s Talent Engine,'” says Commerce Department spokeswoman Lauren Cox. “Unions, workforce programs, schools and employers all working together to employ Philadelphia residents. It is a model we would hope to see replicated with other industries as more programs are launched or expanded.”

The program took 15 experienced but unemployed chefs, recruited through CareerLink, the employment agency, and put them through what student Khalif Hewitt called, “culinary boot camp,” to prepare for union jobs with Aramark, which serves all three of Philadelphia’s top sports venues.

“This is an intense 60-hour hands-on training,” says Penny Greenberg, the Culinary Teacher at Murrell Dobbins CTE High School, which hosts the Academy. (Dobbins is one of the community schools created with funding from the sweetened beverage tax).

untitled30 City Hopes Workforce Training Program Is Recipe For Success

(credit: Pat Loeb)

“A lot of us have been cooking for a while so we already knew what we were doing,” says Leah Miller. “It was more of a refresher course on things we might not have done in a while.”

Miller had been having trouble finding full-time work after taking maternity leave. Tanaja Hammond was unemployed after her seasonal job at Lincoln Financial Field ended. Others had simply experienced the cyclical nature of restaurant employment.

“It has its ups and downs,” says James Atkins who’s spent 35 years in the industry. “I got hit a couple of times. When the economy went down, I got let go and had to start over again.”

That’s why he’s especially happy to be getting a union job.

“When the economy goes up or the economy goes down, you have a backing to have a job. It’s not just, ‘we’re letting you go.'”

The students say they enjoyed the training, even if it was somewhat familiar, partly because of bonding with other students.

“We did a team effort,” says Lorenda Legions. “We studied together, we cooked together, we argued together.”

“Everyone here had the same goals and aspirations,” adds Hammond. “Everyone was eager to learn. Everyone really wants this opportunity.”

And they’re looking forward, now, to working together.

“I can’t wait,” says Hewitt. “To be able to cook in the boxes and the suites for the VIP’s, that’s an opportunity right there.”

“I think it’s awesome,” agrees Brandon Johnson. “My dream was always to work at the park with the Phillies, or the Sixers, or the Eagles– go Eagles. So we’re there. We’re in there.”

This is the second class to graduate from the Academy. The first group is now working at the Airport. One of those graduates, Anthony Cunningham, came back to help Greenberg. He had praise for the program and the students.

“I saw that they were all about team playing, being able to help one another and looking forward to putting their skills to use.”