HAVERHILL — To meet a growing demand for skilled employees in the local restaurant industry, Northern Essex Community College will launch a culinary arts certificate program with a fully equipped kitchen as its classroom.

The program will begin in the fall of 2019 with the help of state funding.

Gov. Charlie Baker recently announced a $500,000 workforce skills grant that will benefit NECC students in the culinary program, as well as in a developing mechatronics one. These two skill sets are in high demand among employers in the Merrimack Valley, officials say.

Baker's grant provides funding to purchase equipment for both programs. 

“Working in partnership with Whittier Vocational Technical High School, Greater Lawrence Technical School, Endicott College and Merrimack Valley employers, Northern Essex has focused on creating two programs that will train individuals for these high-demand jobs," said NECC President Lane Glenn.

Alan Boisvert, owner of Keon's 105 Bistro in downtown Haverhill, is one of several local restaurateurs assisting Northern Essex to plan the new culinary arts curriculum.

"Vocational schools typically introduce students to the basics, including knife skills, sanitation, reading and understanding recipes, and basic cooking techniques," he said. "This new program will take it to the next level, incorporating more in-depth cooking and skill levels and a better understanding of the industry and its needs."

Boisvert said there is a lot of competition in the restaurant industry for trained professionals.

"This program will help to fill the need for mid-level culinary personnel," he said. "There are jobs waiting but we need trained people to fill them."

Over the last year, Glenn has met with local restaurant owners and managers and received their input on key topics like career opportunities, curriculum and equipment.

The program will be located in a yet-to-be determined downtown Haverhill location. Grant funding of $150,000 will be used to buy and install commercial restaurant equipment, including counter-top stoves, ranges, convection ovens, fryers, griddles, mixers, a walk-in cooler and freezer, and banquet tables and chairs. 

Computers with hotel- and restaurant-related software will be used to train students in the areas of inventory control, recipe building, event planning, and hotel management. 

“It is the same equipment that culinary employees in the workplace use,” said Kelly Sullivan, NECC's dean of the Technology, Arts, Professional Studies and Science Division. 

In total, the Baker-Polito Administration awarded $11.8 million in Workforce Skills Capital Grants to 32 vocational schools, community colleges, and traditional public high schools.

The grants program was created by the Baker-Polito Administration last year to help educational institutions create partnerships to align curriculum and credentials with the demands of local businesses.

Because manufacturing also is a high-demand area of employment in the Merrimack Valley, Northern Essex will use $350,000 in grant funding to purchase equipment for a mechatronic certificate program. It's being developed in partnership with Greater Lawrence Technical School, where the equipment will be installed.