According to pop culture, working in fast food is a sign of failure. In the 1999 film “American Beauty,” Kevin Spacey’s character works in fast food after he loses his job as an advertising executive.
These are the images that make fast-food chains seem like the only option for the uneducated or a last resort for failed professionals. But the training and education initiatives at McDonald’s Corp. deserve a break from the stereotype.
“Learning is our culture and has been since day one,” said Allyson Carter, senior director of design and education strategies. “Our founder talked about investing in talent, that it wasn’t in wages. It was ensuring our people had the best development, because people tend to replicate products and processes outside McDonald’s.”
Like its restaurant menus, the company’s learning opportunities have adapted since its 1955 inception. Diana Thomas, vice president of U.S. training, learning and development, said the need to streamline roles in the restaurants to better serve customers was the catalyst to adjust the curriculum. “As things continue to evolve in the economy, we’re always looking at what is the most efficient and effective way to train people,” Thomas said.
But teaching crews to function more resourcefully is just the tip of the golden arch. In 2013 Thomas’ department launched a three-year education strategy that focuses not just on job training but also on personal development.
This includes helping employees to learn language skills, participate in a fitness plan, start college or finish earning a degree. “We’re looking at them setting up personal goals as well as professional goals to help them continue to be the very best that they can be,” Thomas said.
As the third largest employer in the country following the U.S. government and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., McDonald’s learning reaches a large population. Last year, 131,000 learners in more than 14,000 locations engaged in its curriculum, and 3.2 million learning modules were accessed in its learning management system — up from 2.5 million in 2012.
Consistently training that many employees depends on organization. The company’s “three-legged stool model” makes sure that franchisees, suppliers and the company are aligned in support of development strategies. Licensed franchisees, who operate 85 percent of McDonald’s restaurants, play an important part in helping to develop and distribute training.
“We’re very blessed to have a leadership that’s tremendously committed to ensuring we’ve got the best culture and learning support throughout the organization,” Thomas said. Not only do leaders continue to give financial support to the company’s Hamburger University, but also they teach at every level.
Thomas and Carter judge the program’s success through the 95 percent of users who say they have used their training in their job and business. “They’re telling us they’re using it all,” Carter said. “We certainly don’t have time in today’s business world to provide fluff. We’re providing them with targeted training to improve their performance.”
Of course, impact on the bottom line also measures success. Higher guest counts and sales as well as higher levels of employee engagement all lead to higher cash flow.
This not only benefits the corporation as a whole but also franchise operators, who in turn give input to develop training programs and talent management systems.
There’s also a place for them to contribute as McDonald’s looks to improve educational programs. Thomas said she wants to continue adapting to changes in technology, from using more mobile platforms to making training available on tablets.
Delivery methods aside, the opportunities offered will continue to shift toward a more holistic approach.
“Probably the thing we’re most excited about is really focusing on helping people be the best that they can be, being fully capable, which is more than training,” Thomas said. “That really is the right education, the right experiences and the right support for them personally.”