Community Engagement
Engaging America’s Youth through Career Competitions
Lorna Donatone
Lorna Donatone
CEO, Sodexo Schools Worldwide President, Sodexo North America

Youth engagement programs help young people find their path to a promising and fulfilling career through real-world experience. They foster engagement in the community, teach unique skill sets and provide future employment opportunities. Sites like Career Kids include career awareness and exploration materials for teachers and students. About Careers is targeted at children, teens and parents, who can use the site to explore how to choose an occupation, find a job, get the skills necessary to enter the work force and learn how to develop good work habits.

These programs and others are good news for the service-based U.S. economy, which needs skilled workers in many fields. For example, the opportunity for skilled culinarians is enormous, offering a multitude of career paths. Traditional—and renowned—culinary schools graduate thousands of students every year, but the demand is still increasing. How can schools and companies work together to inform, engage and prepare students for careers in the industry?

Right now, the National ProStart Invitational®, the country’s premier high school competition focused on restaurant management and culinary arts, is highlighting 350 top ProStart® students from around the world as they compete in the event. They will showcase their passion and skills in front of nearly 1,000 friends and family, educators and industry leaders.

ProStart is one of many competitions that not only hones students’ passion for cooking into marketable skills, it also instills employability skills—like leadership, accountability, teamwork and responsibility.

Similarly, the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) is a yearlong achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students. More than 260,000 young people have participated since the program began in 26 categories of competition in the sciences, humanities, business, and performing and visual arts. Sodexo executive chefs participate as mentors with help from Chef Sterling Smith, who matches student participants and chef mentors across the country. Several student mentees have found jobs with Sodexo following participation in ACT-SO.

And, even younger talent is emerging through Sodexo’s Future Chefs program. Elementary school students submit healthy afterschool snacks at a special event and a panel chooses three finalists from each school. Finalists are invited to a cook-off where recipes are judged in five categories: Health-Conscious Foods, Judges’ Choice, Kid-Friendly Preparation, Best Table Presentation and Fun Food. Five national finalists create a video of their healthy recipe, which can be seen on a dedicated YouTube channel where visitors can vote for their favorite recipe: Public vote will determine the 2015 national winner.

These programs uncover talent and point students toward meaningful careers while engaging them in the joy of accomplishment, a combination that supports economic growth and personal achievement.


Lorna Donatone is President & COO of Sodexo Education.

One comment on “Engaging America’s Youth through Career Competitions

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    This is a great article and I appreciate the links to the other resources.

    I am particularly interested in the Future Chefs Contest. I want to learn more information: timeline, who/how to enter, etc.

    Thanks for pointing this out…….because it is another great Sodexo offering.


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