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Prescott restaurateur offers to pay employees' college tuition to entice hiring amid pandemic

Skyler Reeves has worked his way up the food chain in restaurants since 16, now he's offering his employees free college tuition as an incentive to join his team.

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Arizona businesses are back open after billions of dollars in federal stimulus have been sent, vaccination rates have risen, and lockdowns have been lifted.

But many are having a tough time finding workers. It's across industries from manufacturing to construction but especially in the restaurant industry.

We keep saying it’s been a hard year; it’s been a hard year and a half now,” said Vivili Hospitality Group owner Skyler Reeves. "I’ll never forget it, March 15, 2020, it was my daughter's birthday, and we were supposed to go to a concert together, and it was one of the first things that got canceled. That’s when I started getting the phone calls that we were going to have to shut down."

Amid labor shortage, Arizona restauranteur launches free college tuition program to attract employees

Skyler Reeves has worked his way up in restaurants since he was 16 years old, and now he's offering his employees free college tuition as an incentive to join his team.  

Vivili Hospitality Group, Prescott’s largest restaurant group, is partnering with Yavapai College to offer employees free college tuition to incentivize new and existing employees amid a national hiring crisis that has plagued the restaurant industry since the pandemic.

“It wasn’t super easy finding employees before, but it certainly wasn’t like this,” said Reeves. 

Vivili Hospitality Group is the largest restaurant group in the area employing more than 125 people across five thriving restaurants, including The County Seat, La Planchada, The Barley Hound, Rosa’s Pizzeria, and Taco Don’s, plus a full-service events and catering company, Hawk & Hound. 

He believes it's a combination of competing with unemployment benefits and people finding new work outside of the industry. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average weekly benefit amount in Arizona is $537, compared to $486 for minimum wage. 

“Attracting and retaining the best talent is a top priority for Vivili, and creating this program with Yavapai College allows us to do just that while also contributing to the community by funding the education of people looking to get ahead in their careers,” said Reeves. “With this being a challenging hiring time for the service sector all over the country, our vision for this program is to find a creative way to alleviate this industry-wide issue.”

The Vivili College Program launched on Wednesday and has available course registration for the fall semester. 

All Vivili employees are eligible for tuition benefits after 90 days of employment and working an average of 32 hours per week. With classes for the first fall term beginning Aug. 16, new staffers must be employed by May 22 to qualify. 

Those enrolling in the second fall term beginning Oct. 11 must start their employment by July 17. Employees must enroll in a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester and earn a passing grade of C or better to receive the reimbursement.    

Yavapai College serves students in Northern Arizona. Students participating in the Vivili College Program are able to select any major or path without restrictions, and there are no stipulations requiring employment beyond graduation, allowing graduates to pursue careers aligned with their degrees immediately.

"This type of model for workforce training is essential for students to allow them to work and go to school simultaneously," said Dr. Lisa Rhine, president of Yavapai College. "We are beyond excited to partner with Vivili Hospitality Group and commend their efforts to provide education to as many of their employees as they can."

To learn more about Vivili Hospitality Group or to apply to join the team, visit ViviliGroup.com. For more about Yavapai College and its degree programs, visit yc.edu or call (928) 717-7777 and ask for Ashley Harlan or Jeremy Poehnert to register.

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