Work Experience

The 400 hours of industry related work experience required to earn the National Certificate of Achievement (COA) may be achieved through any combination of paid employment, school-based enterprise (such as catering, fundraisers, providing meals for student or community groups etc.) and relevant volunteer work.

To determine whether a position qualifies for the COA, look to the Student Work Experience Checklist. In addition to the 400 hours, a student must demonstrate proficiency in at least 52 of the 75 competencies on the checklist. Students may submit multiple checklists, each signed by up to three different supervisors or managers, noting proficiency in the competencies that the individual observed. So any job, volunteer work or school enterprise related to foodservice during which they will learn and demonstrate proficiency in one or more competencies would qualify. That means students don’t have to work exclusively in restaurants—hours may be earned in all kinds of different settings—grocery stores, soup kitchens, bake sales etc.

Any hours being claimed for the COA must be verifiable with documentation. Acceptable forms of documentation include: paystubs, log sheets signed by a supervisor, and/or a letter signed by the employer on company letterhead summarizing the scope of work and the total hours completed. Documenting the 400 hours can be challenging but the COA is intended to recognize student achievement and hard work. It’s a valuable credential that recognizes the extra effort a student made. Earning your COA lets college admissions representatives and potential employers know that the student has gone above and beyond the classroom to develop skills in the industry—which isn’t the same as completing the class.

Work Experience FAQs:

Q: What if I work a job that only has the opportunity to earn fewer than 52 competencies? Does that not qualify?
A: A job can still count towards the COA even if you can’t earn 52 competencies. If a student cannot achieve at least 52 competencies in a single work site, they will just need to work another job to earn the remaining competencies to reach the 52 competency minimum.

Q: How do I know for sure if a job will count towards my COA?
A: If there is any doubt whether a job will qualify for the COA, it is highly recommended that you ask the State ProStart Coordinator before starting the job since it is the Coordinator’s responsibility to approve hours.

Q: Do cooking labs or practice for competition qualify for the COA?
A: Hands-on work during class time (practicum and labs) and practicing for competitions (ProStart, SkillsUSA, FCCLA, etc.) DO NOT count toward the 400 hours or the Student Work Experience Checklist. Those are classroom-related experiences and are distinct from paid/unpaid work where there is a job or responsibility and supervisor or manager.

Q: Sometimes I work for my ProStart teacher beyond my usual class time for a catering event or at my school café (school based enterprise). Can these jobs count for the COA?
A: Caterings and events from school functions may absolutely count; they go above and beyond the usual classroom experience. The student needs to have had a specific job or set of duties they performed at the catering/event and the teacher needs to provide a detailed letter or other document such as a log sheet verifying the date(s) of the student participation and the total number of hours earned. This document can be provided at the conclusion of every event or at the end of the semester.