Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Mrs. Gorton must be so proud. I’m not sure how much of that expression applies to cheese steaks but I suspect Shem Adams of Phillys had it in mind when he created an apprenticeship program that didn’t require a bad comb-over but will take two Norwich Free Academy students and give them a taste, pardon the pun, of the hospitality business and perhaps a leg-up on a career choice.
Adams begins at the beginning which doesn’t always happen in Norwich, “We wanted to give our future generation the opportunity to use Phillys to their advantage and prepare for their “real life” lives with a ‘learn by doing’ apprenticeship.
“We started the school year looking for candidates with at least a 2.7 grade point average, strong character references, actively engaged in community outreach beyond the NFA campus and who were heavily involved in extracurricular activities.
"Our apprentices had to have good interpersonal communication skills, possess working papers and have written permission from their folks or guardian. We had a lot of applicants, and because we wanted to make sure they and we would succeed in this apprenticeship, the screening process was intense, so intense we actually selected a Tremendous Trio.”
The first two NFA students chosen, Brett Cox and Ramel Williams, started March 23th and will be joined by Marcus Outlow on April 20th. All three have long hours and hard work ahead of them, since Adams and Phillys weren’t honored by The Travel Channel for just sitting around and watching the grass grow. Speaking of growing grass, the patch of green stuff they use for baseball inside of Dodd Stadium will have Phillys on the menu and the stadium concourse when the Connecticut Tigers’ season starts in June.
This will be intense by design, Adams explains. “The apprenticeship program is 8 weeks long at 10 hours a week for 80 hours. During the first 3/4 of the training, we’ll focus on personal and professional growth, hospitality, individual responsibility, accountability, as well as the marketing operations of the restaurant, to include stocking and ordering of merchandise.
“During the last quarter we’ll have them serve as restaurant managers (doing payroll, cash deposits, etc.) to get a taste at what it is like to run a restaurant (this is going to be fun).” After putting the fun in fundamentals Adams doesn’t intend to forget his young apprentices.
“When the apprenticeship concludes we think we’ll have given the kids a leg up in applying for their first job because as well know it’s hard to land a first job when you have no experience and we’ll also place them on our list of potential hires.
"As we grow within the community and the surrounding communities our apprentices will get first preference as we bring people on, pending positions and their availability. The goal is to run the program six months out of the year giving six young people an opportunity. And we’ll offer cash bonds as grade-based incentives to apprenticeship graduates for their school work that same corresponding year, to help them remain focused.”
For Adams, the program made sense, for him and for a community who’s embraced his business with open arms (and a stack of napkins). “It seemed like a perfect way to give back since I have been given so much. NFA and its students have done nothing but support the little hole in the wall down the street (Phillys). And, I’m a firm believer in not forgetting where you are and where you came from. I admit I get goose bumps thinking other businesses could follow suit and if they did, could you imagine the future of Norwich?!?!”