Ben & Jerry’s, McDonald’s Serve Up Transferable Education Opportunities

Ben & Jerry’s, McDonald’s Serve Up Transferable Education Opportunities

McDonald’s and Ben & Jerry’s may not have a lot in common in their corporate philosophies, but both companies have recently begun offering their low-skilled employees significant educational opportunities that will help them wherever their career paths may take them.

Eighty percent of employees at Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shops are in their first-ever job. The Vermont-based company is now offering them skills training through an online program called Core Academy, where employees can take one of four courses: Beyond the Job parts 1 and 2, Activism Academy, and Social Equity & Inclusion. These topics jibe with the company’s stated commitment to social responsibility.

“We started thinking about what are our responsibilities to this entry-level workforce,” Collette Hittinger, the ice cream company’s global operations and training manager, told SHRM’s Kathy Gurchiek earlier this month, “and we decided we had plenty of programs about how to run an ice cream store,” but nothing to develop skills that would enhance workplace and customer interactions, such as emotional intelligence. The training opportunity also prepares their workforce, 75 percent of which is aged 18-24, for leadership down the road.

Ben & Jerry’s developed the program in partnership with the local Champlain College and California-based Story of Stuff Project. The coursework draws from Champlain’s MBA programs for its content and project-based structure. Participation in Core Academy is voluntary, but the program has been very well-attended and received. It also allows Ben & Jerry’s to stand out in attracting workers for their minimum-wage service industry jobs.

McDonald’s is offering a more traditional education credential, as participants in its “Archways to Opportunity” program can earn a high school diploma through the fast food titan’s partnership with Cengage Learning. Since the 18-month program launched in 2015, roughly 100 employees have completed it and over 800 are currently enrolled. Amanda Eisenberg at Employee Benefit News has the details on the program, which is designed for adult learners:

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. … The nationally accredited program is also competency-based, with participants needing to pass a course with a 70% score or better to advance,

Eisenberg reports that 40 percent of McDonald’s employees do not have their high school diploma and that 20-25 percent of those are store managers. The company’s leadership sees value in this program not only as a recruiting tool, but also for retention. McDonald’s loses 40 percent of its trainees within 90 days, which makes turnover a constant and costly problem. By investing in their employees’ career growth, whether it continues with them or elsewhere, they are differentiating their job offering in a very crowded, seemingly homogenous, low-skilled labor market.