Geovanny Esparza Rodriquez wants a career in the food service industry.

At a glance

What: Teach The Need

Founded: 2012

Participating schools: Burke High School; Garrett Academy Of Technology; Military Magnet Academy; North Charleston High School; R.B. Stall High School; St. John’s High School; Wando High School; West Ashley High School.

Participating restaurants: 82 Queen; Charleston Grill; The Macintosh; The Ordinary; Red Drum; Republic; Xiao Bao Biscuit; Wild Olive.

Online: need

The 18-year-old senior at St. John’s High School on Johns Island has been trying to find his way in the industry by experimenting with recipes at home and working part-time as a waiter at a restaurant in Charleston.

His goal is to reach to the top.

“I want to own my own restaurant,” Esparza Rodriguez said during a recent tour of Charleston Place and its adjoining Charleston Grill restaurant in downtown Charleston.

Esparza Rodriguez is one of more than 100 Charleston County high-schoolers picked to participate in Teach The Need, a program that seeks to prepare at-risk students for careers in the hospitality industry.

Teach The Need recently marked its one-year anniversary with a tour and luncheon at Charleston Place. The four-hour event included a look at the behind-the-scenes operations of the 450-room luxury hotel and the jobs of many of its 450 employees.

Teach The Need was started by Mickey Bakst, general manager of Charleston Grill and president of Feed the Need, a local meal program. The other co-founder is Michael Miller, a youth advocate and member of the Charleston County school board.

Teach The Need comes as local employers such as Bakst lament a dearth of qualified local applicants while recruiting to fill openings in their restaurants.

“We’ve got kids that are not being given opportunities and more importantly, we get kids who are not given hope,” Bakst said. “I’ll speak for the restaurant community, we need good employees. We need good people.”

The goal comes as the food and beverage industry is prepping for a substantial need for good labor, said Ashley Mills, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, a Washington trade group.

The restaurant industry is expected to add 1.4 million jobs over the next decade, with employment reaching 14.3 million by 2024, according to the association.

Several groups such as the National Restaurant Association have formed education programs to encourage more employment in the sector.

The national group launched its ProStart program in 1997, teaching high school students culinary techniques and management skills over two years.

“Our program is intended to develop, attract and retain for the restaurant industry workforce,” Mills said.

The ProStart program works with the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association to teach 2,500 students in 61 schools across South Carolina, officials said.

ProStart is in some Charleston area schools, such as North Charleston High School, Wando High School, Garrett Academy for Technology and Burke Middle-High School.

Bakst said Teach The Need differs because it’s largely geared at the “front of the house” jobs such as waiters, managers and other operations.

John Durst, president and CEO of the Columbia-based restaurant and lodging Association, applauded the effort as yet another way to help recruit talent to the industry.

“The Teach the Need program offers instruction leading to a strong foundation of knowledge of restaurant operations, and provides the skills and tools needed for a successful and rewarding career in the hospitality industry,” he said.

For this semester, Teach The Need has coordinated with the Charleston County School Board and 16 volunteers employed at area restaurants such as Wild Olive on Johns Island, Halls Chophouse in downtown Charleston and Red Drum in Mount Pleasant.

Students from eight county high schools had to apply for the seven-week course by completing an application and writing an essay explaining why they wanted to join the program.

Teach The Need teaches students about restaurant concepts, etiquette, tying a tie, setting a table, and job interviewing skills.

“We teach them what employers look for in employees,” Bakst said. “Our goal is to make sure these kids get a job.”

The program receives its funding from donations like corporate uniform giant Cintas, restaurant equipment supplier FRS Charleston and Charleston Place. The proceeds help pay for aprons, silverware, fine china and other items used for the program’s lessons.

The course also includes mentors working one-on-one with students, helping them with course work such as studying specific local restaurants. In addition, they brainstorm their own restaurant concept that is complete with everything from forming a name to developing unique entrees to be served.

The students also have field trips, which was illustrated by the recent behind-the-scenes tour of the Charleston Place, which is part of Orient-Express Hotels.

The roughly 100 students were broken into smaller groups and showed everything from the hotels expansive kitchen to the rooftop pool and spa area, which drew several “oohs” and “aahs” when they learned that the roof retracts to catch the breeze. The tour was capped off as students were treated to a three-course meal, getting a first-hand look at how the professional food service staff works at Charleston Grill.

For the mentors, the Teach the Need is offering a chance to shape potential co-workers.

“The fun part for me is just getting to meet these kids,” said Jason Parrish, general manager of Wild Olive. “Everybody that works for me is 30-plus years old, and here we get some youth and see their enthusiasm and their passion for learning and that has been really gratifying.”

Tommy Hall of Hall’s Chophouse on King Street said he’s anxious to try to find jobs for the dozen students he works with.

“This is my first year with this, but I already see myself doing this for many years,” he said. “This is more than a 7-week course but it means so much to see one of the students grow not only in the restaurant business, but in life.”

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.