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Designing a Better Recruiting Experience for Hot Bread Kitchen’s Culinary Training Program

Expansion and change are prime opportunities for learning, and Hot Bread Kitchen’s training team has done some significant expanding, changing, and learning over the past year. In 2018, we have worked to scale our program with the goal of doubling the number of women we train for culinary careers. To tackle the challenges inherent in growing any program, our team has implemented an empathy-based, human-centered design approach called “design thinking.” 

Design thinking hinges on a strong understanding of the client or user. For us, this means striving to better understand the women for whom we are designing our training program —to know more intimately their needs, desires, motivations, and barriers.

The Opportunity

We saw opportunity to utilize design thinking in scaling our outreach program to accommodate our new cohort model. In the past, we onboarded 3-5 women a month, but in 2018 we accepted 25-35 women per cohort. An expansion of this scale required building new partnerships to extend our reach into New York City communities where we’ve had a limited presence before. It also required us to think creatively about new recruiting strategies.


Journey Mapping and Persona Development

Through professional development experiences such as a bootcamp with The Design Gym and webinars with the Urban Institute and Citi Community Progress Makers cohort, we learned how to implement design thinking as a tool for approaching our challenges. As a start, we set out to learn from the experiences of our trainees. At an alumnae event, we held a journey mapping session in which we explored the paths that each graduate took to get to us. In small groups, each graduate created a visual representation of her journey to Hot Bread Kitchen. Then, we held a discussion where we dove into each journey, including questions like:

  • What was her motivation?
  • Was she looking for a job or an opportunity to learn a new skill?
  • Where did she hear about us?
  • What steps did she take before she decided to apply?

Using what we learned in the journey mapping session, we grouped common themes and experiences into similar categories to develop two trainee personas. One persona was pushed by isolation. Many women in this category had never worked in the United States or outside the home, and were isolated in their communities. They were motivated by the opportunity to learn English, work outside the home, and gain financial independence. Another persona described women who were actively seeking jobs at the time they applied for the program, but hadn’t had any luck in their job search. They had held jobs before, but were having trouble finding a good job due to discrimination, lack of experience, or English level.  These profiles, rooted in the journey mapping experience and based our aggregated experience with our clients, helped us to understand the unique concerns, experiences, and motivations of different participants and design outreach solutions to meet their distinct needs.

Testing, Feedback, Iteration

During our journey mapping and trainee persona development process, it became clear that women who had never before held a job in the United States often went through a “verification” process before applying to our program: they talked to a trusted family member, looked us up online, or even stopped by Hot Bread Kitchen to verify our legitimacy before taking the step to fill out an application. Our free culinary training and job placement program can sound too good to be true! To best respond to the concerns of these women, we tested an open house at the International Culinary Center to allow interested applicants from immigrant communities to see the training firsthand, meet some of our staff, and ask questions. Three women attended our first open house in November 2018. One woman brought her husband, who was also able to see the training and ask questions. For many women we serve, especially in South Asian immigrant communities, the husband’s support is a huge factor in being able to participate in the training. By inviting husbands to attend the open house as well, women are able to eliminate that barrier to access. We plan to continue to build and test this open house model to engage potential new trainees. We also used our learnings from the journey mapping and trainee persona activity to adjust our program messaging and design our recruiting activities for the future.

Another tenet of design thinking is the incorporation of client feedback into program design. We use regular surveys throughout training to collect real-time feedback on kitchen skills and professional readiness training. Every day after training, participants receive a text with a link to a short survey. We use the responses to make adjustments to our curriculum in real time, address any challenges that surface, and ensure that our training is resonating with the participants. In these surveys, we also capture how women are feeling about their readiness for the workplace to help us better prepare them for the next phase of the program—job placement.

Design thinking has allowed us to move forward with empathy for the women at the heart of our work and to incorporate their feedback into all aspects of our program. It has already made us more creative in our approach, more responsive to feedback, and more centered on our graduates. It can only make us better advocates for the women in our program and make our program stronger moving forward, ensuring that many more women gain access to economic opportunity through careers in food.

Kelsey Minten, Social Impact Programs Coordinator