Labor needs have been soaring at restaurants, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at enrollment in culinary schools. According to a recent Washington Post report, the Culinary Institute of America now accepts 97 percent of all who apply, up from 36 percent two decades ago. Over the same time frame, the percentage of students who ended up enrolling dropped from 91 percent to 33 percent. To be sure, the low pay in the sector relative to the cost of culinary education, the strains of the pandemic on the industry, and increased prioritization of flexible work schedules, paid sick leave and health insurance haven’t helped those results. The industry’s labor challenges are expected to persist: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the need for chefs will climb 25 percent from 2020 to 2030 as compared to an 8 percent average projected growth rate for all occupations. All that said, there is a silver lining for those looking to enter the industry – and for restaurants looking for motivated staff. The current conditions may provide aspiring chefs with the opportunity to get on a faster track to higher-level positions in the industry. One restaurant manager quoted in the Post report said jobs that once required a person to pay their dues over 10 years or more might now be achievable within three to five years. Candidates for these jobs may not come from the country’s top culinary schools but from high school culinary programs or other alternative programs that give students a taste of restaurant work and may spark some motivation for developing a career in the industry. Restaurant operators may have to mine for talent in new places and develop more in-depth training programs that provide education on the job in exchange for work provided. But at the same time, these efforts may also help transform how restaurant employment is perceived by the workforce, elevating restaurants as places in which a person can build a long-term career.