Opportunity Youth Find a Big Change On the Menu at McDonald’s

One man who works for the Golden Arches could be leading the biggest change on the menu at McDonald’s, completely transforming the education game for millions of young adults disconnected from work and school—known as Opportunity Youth—as well as adults seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families. When you talk with Rob Lauber, you’re immediately struck by his energy. Rob’s New Jersey accent drives the point home that he thinks fast, moves even faster, and delights in managing a dozen things at once. Rob is a relative newcomer to McDonald’s who was recruited last year as Chief Learning Officer after a decade at Yum Brands. Rob gets right to the point. “We are doing things differently at McDonald’s, because the world has changed. If we expect to continue to be the leader in serving the public going forward, that starts with a global, diverse, well-trained, and educated workforce.  We know engaged employees deliver a better experience for guests in our restaurants, and we have the scale and passion to do this.”

Rob Lauber, McDonald’s Chief Learning Officer, pictured with director of education strategy, Lisa Schumacher.

Blake Casper, a veteran McDonald’s owner-operator who owns 53 stores in the Tampa Bay area, has a management team that overseas 3,300 employees. According to his training and HR team, investing in employees has been standard practice since they opened their first restaurant in 1958. “Our management team really values education,” shared Rudy Garcia, president of the Caspers Company.  “And McDonald’s is making it even easier for us to invest in our employees by covering some of the costs.”

In a growing economy, employees, just like McDonald’s customers, have many more choices as new jobs become available. Recent workforce trends make a few things stunningly clear: Just as many older workers are aging out of employment, the number of people without a high school diploma is over 40 million and growing by over a million each year. In addition, today’s jobs require even greater skills than ever before. Working at McDonald’s is no longer simply about “flipping burgers.” It’s about managing complex technology and diverse work teams in a fast paced often multi-lingual environment. That’s why McDonald’s intends to lead an educational transformation among the approximately 750,000 employees who work for the brand.  Rob, and his director of education strategy, Lisa Schumacher, have branded this program “Archways to Opportunity.”

Lisa Schumacher, right, pictured with McDonald’s high school graduate Jenny Escobar, and McDonald’s team members Erin Voss and Marianne Merola.

“We know that education is a huge game changer. And we harness a lot of technology in our stores. Technology is a platform we can also use to provide educational opportunities for our entire workforce,” Schumacher explains. As part of their ambitious educational plan, the McDonald’s education team has a goal of recruiting at least one employee in every restaurant going forward. Ultimately, the goal is to offer education and opportunities for employees that don’t simply retain people, but retrain and engage them along the way.

For the Rodriguez family of Miami, third generation McDonald’s owner-operators, this has never been more true. Bryan Rodriguez, whose grandfather Angel started at McDonald’s in 1980, watched opportunities become available to his parents and family that he now wants to see for his own employees. Among the family’s 11 restaurants, they’ve already signed up 5 employees to complete their high school diploma online, through an innovative accredited program that McDonald’s is making available at no cost to all eligible U.S. employees. “Jenny Escobar was one of our employees who just needed her high school diploma to take the next step, and the Archways program allowed her to complete it at no cost,” Bryan and his dad Alex excitedly explained.

From left to right: McDonald’s owner-operators Alex, Bryan and Isla Rodriguez with Jenny Escobar, recent Career Online High School graduate joined by Career Online High School partnership manager, Kari Greenfield.

So Jenny Escobar was on top of the world after graduating recently. And not simply because McDonald’s featured her prominently as one of their success story’s at their Worldwide Conference in Orlando. “They are making me feel like a rock star with all this attention. But even more importantly, I was just promoted to general manager of my restaurant!”

Outsiders are taking notice. After McDonald’s recently published its Progress Report on Archways, investor Warren Buffett was quick to take notice. “The progress McDonald’s has made with Archways to Opportunity will have a profound impact on the lives of so many of their employees.  By providing free high school, and assistance with college tuition, along with academic advising, McDonald’s is ensuring its workers have the tools to succeed throughout their careers and that in turns make our entire economy stronger.”

For those interested in a fast paced environment that looks little like the restaurant operation of the past, the menu of options available appears unlimited. Perhaps there is new meaning behind the old tag line, “millions and millions served.”

Ron J. Stefanski has been in the education services industry since 1982 and has held a variety of executive roles in product development, marketing and new business development. He is currently executive director of strategic alliances for ed2go, a Cengage Learning company, where he has led the launch of the Career Online High School, the first accredited online vocational high school diploma program for opportunity youth and adults.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

Innovation, Management & Leadership, Workforce Development,
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