OCCC gets grant to train food techs

CCC recently received the biggest grant in its history to fund a new program that is the only one of its kind in the nation.

Almost $2.5 million has been earmarked for the college to offer a Commercial Food Equipment Service Technician program, said Steven Bloomberg, Community Development vice president.

The CFEST program will give food service equipment workers the skills and knowledge they need to repair broken equipment in the kitchens they work in, he said.

Bloomberg said the CFEST program will be a free six- to eight-week program and will give participants a certification upon completion. He said the certification and skills they learn can be stacked and latticed to build higher knowledge.

“Basically that certification means that they’ve achieved a certain level of skill so they can go into any restaurant, whether it’s fast food, whether it’s traditional service, whatever it is,” Bloomberg said. “They’ll be able to work on things like their refrigeration units, or fryers, or troubleshoot electrical problems, so anything that’s a piece of electrical food service, these people will have a baseline of training to work on those,”

Professional Development is implementing the new program and will house CFEST in its 30,000-square-foot building located at 7124 S. I-35 Service Road, near the former Crossroads Mall.

Around 5,000 square feet at the Professional Development Institute will be designated to the program, with three classrooms and five different kitchen lab simulators, said Joe Swalwell, grants and contracts director.

“There’s going to be a series of modular lab type scenarios,” Swalwell said. “It will look like one really big commercial kitchen. Of course, it will be broken all the time, because we’ll have to teach people how to fix stuff.”

Students in the lab receive more than hands-on learning, Swalwell said. They also will apprentice under an expert who already knows and uses these skills in a real-life setting.

The 20 to 25 students in each class also will be taught soft skills for the workplace, such as being on time, how to work with different types of people and how to communicate, he said. In addition, they will be given an education and employee coach, who will help them get employed and stay employed.

“Each one of them will have basically what is a case manager, which will serve primarily as a retention enhancer [to] help them stay focused,” he said. “They’ll help them get employment if they are not already employed and then they’ll follow them at least two quarters into employment to make sure they’re going to be retained.”

The grant, funded by the Department of Labor, is aimed at creating job skills, Swalwell said. He said the certification will not only help students get jobs, but also increase their salaries.

Swalwell said he is excited to see the different types of students who will take advantage of the program.

“There will be people who don’t have jobs now, but will take advantage of the free training to become certified CFEST … ,” he said. “Then the other group will be … people who are already employed by your Sonics, or McDonald’s or Red Lobsters, or just anybody who is a big time food delivery type organization who will want to send their employees for certification and additional training.”

Relationships the Professional Development Institute has developed with employers has driven the program, Swalwell said. He said the need for a certification of this nature will help the program expand nationally, and get recognition and business from all types of food service employers.

The CFEST Program also will create five positions for teachers and administrators, Swalwell said.

Bloomberg said after being approached by several different employers, the college decided to act.

“There are some employers who would do this part and then send people out to do a job and they didn’t have all the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful,” he said. “This program really pulls together all these components along with an apprenticeship program to give relevant on the job training experience.”

Swalwell said OCCC had support from the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association. They also were able to take advantage of the Trade Adjustment’s Community College Career Training Program, passed during the Obama administration specifically for community colleges.

However, he said, the team at OCCC is responsible for the success of this grant, many of whom went above and beyond to make it possible.

“This was a result of putting a really strong, smart team together to approach the development of the project,” Swalwell said. “It’s going to take just as smart of team to get it implemented and up and running.

“I think it’s just a really good example of the level of professional intelligence or capability that we take for granted here at OCCC.”

Swalwell and Bloomberg said they anticipate the program to start early next year.

For more information, contact the PDI at 405-682-7562, or visit www.occc.edu/pdi.

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