One-Two Punch: New DOL apprenticeship program benefits students, hospitality industry

With at least a dozen restaurants operating during any given season at three northern Michigan properties, Boyne Resorts has no shortage of staffing needs.

But finding and retaining the skilled culinary workers for Boyne Highlands Resort, Boyne Mountain Resort and the Inn at Bay Harbor is an ongoing challenge. So Boyne is hoping an apprenticeship program it launched this year – unique in the region – will help.

“We struggle to get staff and team members in the kitchen,” said Amanda Bomers, director of human resources at Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs. “We have seen a lot of turnover. We needed to make ourselves stand out and this was a great way to do that.”

In partnership with Northwest Michigan Works!, North Central Michigan College (NCMC) and the American Culinary Federation (ACF), Boyne has forged a program to give current and future culinary workers a two-year apprenticeship path to build their skills and gain credentials.

The U.S. Department of Labor-registered training program blends culinary, hospitality and hotel management aspects, setting students up at the end to receive three credentials: an NCMC certificate in hospitality and hotel management, sous chef certification from the ACF, and a Department of Labor (DOL) culinary journeyworker national credential.

“At the end of the day, we want to see successful students and apprentices that can turn into journeyworkers that can benefit not only Boyne, but their community,” said Chuck Hayes, dean of business, manufacturing and technology at NCMC in Petoskey.

The apprenticeship program includes 4,000 hours of on-the-job training and more than 500 hours of online and classroom instruction, delivered both by NCMC and the ACF. The specialized curriculum was developed at NCMC and incorporates components that satisfy the technical instruction requirements of the DOL, the ACF and the college, tailored to the skills and knowledge base that Boyne wants apprentices to possess.

“We really were focused on what Boyne’s needs were, and what do you see at the end of this as successful graduates that would help meet your needs on property. They kind of spelled it out, and we were able to design it for them pretty well,” Hayes said.

Hayes said that NCMC was “proud” to assist developing the program.

“We were very proud to be able to help our great partners in Boyne, and to help so many students to do something they are so passionate about, for something that is a thriving industry up here in northwest Michigan,” he said.

Discussions began in late 2018 between Boyne, NCMC and Northwest Michigan Works!, the latter of which had a relationship with Boyne through a local initiative to help businesses retain employees. Bomers said a culinary apprenticeship program at Boyne’s Sunday River Resort in Maine led to her interest in exploring options and ideas for the Emmet and Charlevoix county properties.

Evelyn Szpliet, manager of apprenticeships and business resource networks for Northwest Michigan Works!, said the apprenticeship is the first of its kind for northern Michigan. And while it was developed for Boyne, it could be an example for other hospitality employers to consider.

“Any hospitality employer could look at this program and modify it to their specific needs,” she said. “Whether it’s culinary or hotel associate, there’s a lot of different options that we can tap into for each individual employer.”

Apprenticeships are an employer commitment that can include paying both wages and tuition while the apprentice is working, and designating a mentor to oversee on-the-job performance and the progression of classwork, which might be delivered through community colleges, trade schools, universities, industry organizations and online providers.

Boyne sought apprenticeship applicants internally and externally, hiring eight for full-time positions in the first cohort that began in January.

First-semester course areas included hospitality, hospitality law and ethics, nutrition, sanitation and safety. Upcoming semesters include food and beverage management, customer service, menu planning, food preparation, cold food pantry and prep, baking and pastry, and food cost accounting, purchasing and receiving.

Teaching some of the NCMC classes is hospitality industry veteran Mistelle Langen, director of reservations and revenue at Northern Michigan Escapes, which provides vacation rentals, property services and real estate services with offices in Boyne City, Harbor Springs, Charlevoix and Traverse City.

Langen, whose background includes building, developing and operating management companies and hospitality property operations around the country, is a northern Michigan native and Petoskey High School graduate. She returned to the area in 2019 and soon joined the then-developing apprenticeship effort.

Langen said the opportunity to share knowledge, standards and her passion for hospitality with “this community, so dependent on hospitality and tourism … (is) for me like a lifelong dream coming true.”

As adjunct faculty, Langen in the first semester taught introduction to hospitality management, and hospitality law and ethics. This fall she will teach food and beverage management and customer service.

NCMC’s portion of fall semester classes are expected to be in-person, after what began in January as face-to-face classes moved online as the coronavirus pandemic forced the entire college to switch to virtual instruction.

Langen said the apprentices transitioned easily into the online format, gaining confidence as they tackled content in classes that continued to meet twice weekly and held a real-life parallel to the hospitality industry.

“That’s what hospitality is, every interaction you have with a guest is an adaptation,” she said. “So it was almost like a crash course in customer service and adapting to expectations.”

She said students are invested in the apprenticeship program and eager to learn and deliver. And, they are generating interest in their co-workers “who are now saying to them, how can I get in, how can I be involved. To me, that’s a gold star for the apprentices,” Langen said.

The apprenticeship program’s structure calls for the ACF to deliver its courses online, and the college had to become certified by the ACF as the institution administering the apprenticeship, Hayes said. He is the administrator of the apprenticeship program and the ACF’s liaison for involvement with Boyne, Northwest Michigan Works!, the DOL, and the apprentices.

On-the-job training that halted as a response to the coronavirus pandemic is again proceeding, overseen by two mentors at Boyne Highlands, two at Boyne Mountain and one at the Inn. The mentors monitor apprentice’s progress, sign off on skills as they’re achieved and are the point of contact for the apprenticeship’s training, Bomers said.

Szpliet said that when mentor orientation was held, “it was amazing to see the engagement from the other chefs that would be coaching the apprentices. The mentors were very excited about this program.

“It’s very wonderful to have an entire team engaged in the process. This was unique because we had so many mentors at one time. And having all of those credentials built into a program adds a lot of value for an apprentice.”

Northwest Michigan Works! holds a variety of apprenticeship program roles. It acts as an intermediary between an employer and the DOL, handling paperwork and assembling documents. From the start it helped the employer structure a program and prepare a package that was acceptable to the DOL. The agency can assist in recruiting apprentice candidates and submits apprenticeship registrations to the DOL and provides ongoing technical assistance and administrative support.

Working with the employer, Northwest Michigan Works! tracks the apprentice’s training, manages their paperwork and keeps in touch with apprentices to ensure they maintain success through the program. The agency can also help employers connect with DOL-funded grants that funnel through state government and can be used to offset training costs.

“We offer wrap-around services for both the apprentice and the employer,” Szpliet said.

Bomers said Boyne’s grant entails an initial $1,500 per apprentice with an additional $500 per apprentice expected in July, for a $16,000 total that helps pay for the cost of college and ACF courses. Boyne Mountain and Highlands and the Inn are providing personalized chef coats and knife kits to the apprentices.

Boyne is recruiting for the program on an ongoing basis and hopes to start a second cohort by winter. Benefits to the company could eventually stretch beyond Michigan properties; there’s potential for the apprenticeship program to be a talent pipeline for other Boyne resorts around the country, with northern Michigan serving as a training center.

“If we can make this program big, it’s more than likely possible,” Bomers said. “At this point it’s kind of hard to say if we’ll get there, but I hope we do.”

Amy Lane is a freelance journalist and former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.