McDonald's flips learning to higher level

Partnership with B.C. Institute of Technology gives employees degree or diploma
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/20/2015

Serving burgers and fries, many workers start their careers at McDonald’s, finding much-needed income, skills and experience. 

The chain also provides extensive in-house training programs so employees can further develop their expertise and advance their careers.

Recently, McDonald’s took that supportive culture even further by partnering with the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Burnaby, B.C. In offering education incentives to McDonald’s managers and team leaders, the partnership provides advanced placement or course credit that can be applied to a BCIT School of Business diploma or degree based upon training module completion at McDonald’s. 

This training is recognized by BCIT through the Advanced Placement and Prior Learning Program (APPL) and credit is awarded for each level of McDonald’s training completed.

“A lot of organizations know that McDonald’s does a good job of training so any company would see someone with a McDonald’s management background as being desirable, but that’s not universal,” says Kevin Wainwright, program head at the BCIT School of Business. 

“This way, they get a formal credential, they get their degree and as a young person with a long career in front of them, this gives them greater flexibility.

“They see this program and they suddenly realize that they don’t have to spend an extra eight years in part-time education to get a degree or have to quit their job or take a sabbatical for three years in order to get their degree.”

The program can also mean significant cost savings for employees by reducing the number of courses and time required. The full cost of earning a two-year diploma, followed by the BBA degree program, is about $27,200 combined. McDonald’s students enrolled in a diploma and then degree program can earn up to 16 course credits, saving about $8,000. 

And if an individual is also awarded course exemptions through the Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) system, he could save up to $14,400 relative to the cost of the regular pathway at BCIT.

“For many of them, we’re taking away almost the entire first two years of a four-year degree, so many of them are saving up to $14,000 worth of tuition alone, not to mention books and whatever else would go along with that, so they could... easily save upwards of $20,000,” says Wainwright.

Managers have the opportunity to accelerate their diploma and degree completion while reducing costs, says Stacy Salvalaggio, national director of training, learning and development at McDonald’s in Toronto.

“And in the BCIT learning environment, it’s really enhanced through the McDonald’s students being able to contribute real-life examples to draw on in classroom participation and their team activities that are part of their curriculum, so it’s been a really nice match.”

2013 study

The partnership was formalized after a 2013 study by BCIT found comparisons between the learning outcomes at McDonald’s Canada and the 13 major topics taught in business programs at post-secondary institutions, including marketing, finance, accounting, organizational behaviour, operations, economics and business policy. 

“The findings indicated that the learning outcomes taught through the McDonald’s management and leadership training programs and modules were very aligned with the BCIT School of Business academic course, particularly relating to their business diploma and degree programs,” says Salvalaggio. 

“Our managers... go through some very structured courses that really give them the knowledge, the insights into areas such as... marketing, finance, operations, customer service, food safety — it’s actually quite detailed.”

To build the partnership, the school audited McDonald’s courses to look for potential overlaps or gaps.

“I took a team from BCIT and we researched their training processes and their training programs — which are incredibly good, incredibly detailed — and carried out a mapping process,” says Wainwright. 

“We also… do an advanced placement option where we sort of work backwards. What we did then is said, ‘If we bring a McDonald’s manager into our program, are there any areas where they’ve got gaps, they might fail because they weren’t properly prepared?’ So then we created a custom bridging program that would allow them to fill in anything that was missing, usually more on the academic side, like statistics, economics… and then… they could enter into the degree completion program.”

Information sessions for the pilot project were held in November 2013. About 80 interested leaders and managers showed up, with 30 then looking to be evaluated and 20 actually entering the program, says Wainwright.

“In terms of the conversion rates from an information session to people actually registering, that’s a phenomenally high rate.”

The target group was people in their 20s and early 30s who worked in the McDonald’s restaurants, though there have been a lot of inquiries from people higher up in corporate. 

“I was quite pleasantly surprised to see several members of management that have been around for several years, not in that under-24 category, really get excited about the opportunity to go back to school and to get their diploma or degree,” says Salvalaggio.

“A lot of them maybe didn’t have the opportunity to finish it due to finances or just time, and with the flexible work schedule and whatnot we provide, we’re really giving those folks an opportunity to go back and achieve their personal goals.”

There are a lot of people in Canada who have committed a lot of human capital on the job but don’t necessarily have the credentials to support that, which then traps them in terms of promotions or different jobs, says Wainwright. 

“That, I think, is important, especially as we move forward talking about the skills gap, we have this sort of hidden talent in the system and all this learning that’s out there from on-the-job, it’s not been validated and identified and I think this is a great model for that.”

The agreement with BCIT is a win-win for everyone, says Sharon Ramalho, senior vice-president and chief people officer at McDonald’s in Toronto.

“Connecting with BCIT and perhaps future associations… really helps to enable our people to both network with other non-McDonald’s people as well as take the learnings that they might not have gotten through their own post-secondary education, so they’ve got a combination of what we offer them as well as now a choice to even further expand upon their education and their ultimate credentials.”

Three-quarters of the senior leadership team at McDonald’s Canada started in restaurants, she says.

“If we think about the career path that our senior leadership, our management are able to take, education is an important part of it and if that’s ongoing education within the McDonald’s system as well as outside of the McDonald’s system, it’s something that we value and really truly support,” says Ramalho. 

“We do it as way to show our people how we value them outside of traditional compensation and benefits that one might get in many other organizations and workplaces.”

However, this type of partnership may not be for everyone, says Salvalaggio.

“With 70 per cent of our staff being under the age of 24, obviously at that age, they’re considering or really need to factor in further education — for us it makes a lot of sense. I would suggest that other employers really need to look at those aspects of what their employees need before they would consider embarking on a program of this nature.”

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