McDonald’s has an employee benefit that’s just short of a time machine: the chance to go back to high school for a diploma.
Well, not quite back to high school.
McDonald’s employees have the opportunity to finish their studies and earn a diploma, not a GED, through the “Archways to Opportunity” employee education program, in collaboration with educational content company Cengage. About 100 employees have recently earned their high school diploma through the 18-month program, which started in 2015, and more than 800 employees are in the process of getting their diplomas.
“Organizations that require a lot of people — retail, food services — they have to bring a lot of people into the workforce,” says Ron Stefanski, executive director for strategic alliances at Cengage. “Among corporations, there’s definitely an initiative underway. They see an education benefit as a way to provide an opportunity to people with low skills but it’s also an opportunity to change the conversations about their talent strategy.”
The skills-based, career-focused online curriculum is designed for adult learners — the average participant age is 27 — who might have done a year or two at a traditional high school but didn’t finish for a variety of reasons, he says.
“There’s a real stigma built around being a high school dropout,” Stefanski says.
About 40% of McDonald’s employees do not have, or are working toward, their high school diploma, and 20% to 25% of those employees are store managers.
The 18-credit program, which costs $1,295 per student, offers four elective courses and then turns those classes into entry-level workforce tracks, such as restaurant and safety, retail and customer service, and child development. From there, employees are ready to take academic classes with a newfound confidence from excelling in their elective courses, Stefanski says.
The nationally accredited program is also competency-based, with participants needing to pass a course with a 70% score or better to advance, he says. Employees that fail a unit three consecutive times are then directed to an academic coach, who follows them from the start of the program until they graduate.
The fast food giant rolled out the corporate-sponsored program in 2015 to help their employees develop hard and soft skills while developing a pipeline to hire from within the company, Stefanski says. The company pays for franchise employees who want to enroll in the program as well.
McDonald’s also aimed to reduce retention rates in a high-turnover industry by having their employees enroll in an 18-month course.
Forty percent of McDonald’s employees are trained but leave their jobs within 90 days, making turnover especially costly, Stefanski says. By moving the needle, even among the 900 employees who have enrolled in the program thus far, can make a big difference.
The company has promoted the program through a “Someone Like You” campaign that highlights their employees’ success.
Of the students who self-reported their career goals, 65% to 70% of employees went on to receive additional education or job training, Stefanski says.
Although the program aims to improve retention rates, additional education becomes a clear path for employees to leave their minimum wage job at McDonald’s.
“As we talk about being committed to being America’s best first job, I see it as a first job,” says Lisa Schumacher, director of education strategies at McDonald’s. “It’s an opportunity for folks to build their skills that are transferrable into lots of roles.”
The high school diploma program isn’t the only education benefit McDonald’s offers, either. Its Archways to Opportunity program also offers benefits to help employees improve their English skills, work toward a college degree and get help making an education plan for success.
Companies such as Walmart and Hilton Hotels also are starting to offer an education benefit like Cengage’s Career Online High School.
“From a business perspective, recruitment, retention and capability are reasons why employers are starting to play in this space and do things in this education space,” Schumacher says. “I do think that most employers feel, again, the responsibility to that frontline workforce.”