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Jill McDonald, President and Chief Executive Officer, McDonald’s UK IOD speech

11 May 2011  

In May 2011, CEO Jill McDonald addressed delegates at the Institute of Directors' annual conference, speaking about the employment  and training opportunites available for young people at McDonald's.

Thank you Andrew; I’m delighted that you worked for us whilst you were a gap year student and to hear how that experience helped you in the earlier stages of your career.

Although that was a little while ago, it very much echoes the experience of our young people today and it’s an area I am going to explore with you all over the next 10 minutes or so.

I count myself extremely lucky to work with a lot of young people. I find it hugely energising, if somewhat exhausting to keep up with them sometimes. But, it keeps me in touch with what they are thinking and how they are feeling, which is important when families and young adults form such an important part of our customer and employee base.

Every year we give thousands of young people their first job. That’s a big source of pride for me.  In fact half of our 85,000-strong workforce is under 21.

There’s no question it’s tough out there being a young person today... they are suffering more than anyone else at the moment with youth unemployment so high.

If you think about it, it has been tough now for a few years, and I think we’re in danger of this being something quite long lasting.  

I can only imagine the frustration lots of young people are facing, which is why today I want to examine why helping young people get on matters to business, to share our experiences on how we have found best to do this, and explore the difference we the private sector can make to one of the biggest challenges we are facing as a nation in a generation.

I’m sure you’ll be well versed in the statistics by now.

Youth unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds has been within touching distance of 1 million for a while now and stands at 963,000, with the jobless rate for young people in the UK above 20%.  In Germany it’s just 7%.

The unemployment rate for graduates has almost doubled from just over 10% to 20% since the downturn started.

There’s a squeeze on further and higher education places and university is becoming increasingly competitive and more expensive.

No surprise then that social mobility (as shown by the Government’s recent study) is stubborn.

This ‘perfect storm’ should matter to every one of us in this room.  These young people are our potential employees and our potential customers. If they are undervalued, if they feel isolated, it is bad for business.

I think what’s really important for those young people who are trying to find work, is that employers are offering quality jobs, not just jobs; roles with opportunities for career progression, as well as training and development opportunities as they work.

I’d urge people to recognise the value that employers of all sizes and in all sectors can play in investing in their staff and creating opportunities for them.

If we get it right, and invest in them and help build their competence and confidence, it’s a win-win situation.  More competent and confident employees provide better customer service and a better customer experience.

I've made it my job since starting as CEO of McDonald’s to understand the hopes and fears of young people. I want my business to play a part in helping the next generation, not hindering them.

So what can I tell you about the young people that work for us?

Young people join us because they want some extra money in their pockets.  They know we offer the flexibility for them to work around their lives, whether its college studies, caring for family or their busy social lives.

Young people are staying with us, and are staying longer. We’re well aware there aren’t that many jobs out there.  But they are also staying with us because they are hungrier than ever for a broader range of employment and education opportunities.

I know in the past some businesses have railed against becoming a finishing school for the education sector. I just don’t see it that way.

When I visit our restaurants and meet crew members and managers who are doing a great job, and who visibly grow in confidence, it reminds me what a difference it makes when we invest in them as people, not just service providers.

This is one of the things that make working with lots of young people so rewarding; the huge transformation you see in them as they settle into the world of work. Within weeks, we see slightly shy and awkward teenagers become much more confident and assured.

There is huge value in this for us and our people, and it shouldn’t be under-estimated. As their confidence builds, so does their performance in working with colleagues and serving customers. And if they use us as a stepping stone to another job, which we’re entirely relaxed about, their confidence and experience shines through when they move on.

During the last five years, the role we’re playing in opening up opportunities for young people has taken a big step forward.

The truth is, as the worlds of business and education move ever closer, companies like ours are becoming educators as well as employers.

As businesses we can help young people in a number of ways, but the most important contribution we can make is simple – jobs and skills that help them progress.

I recently met a young lady called Alix Potts...aged 22 she was training to be a hairdresser and was working part-time with McDonald’s.

Alix decided to join us full time, became one of our first Apprentices and in the process gained better qualifications than she’d left school with. She went on to pass with flying colours from our Level 3 management diploma, and is now firmly working her way up our managerial ladder.

Alix’s story and her progression is typical at McDonald’s - but not everyone gets to see our role in helping people achieve their full potential.

There’s a lot of snobbery around our jobs, but in some of the most badly hit areas of the country – where the public sector is actually putting people on the dole queue – we offer not just jobs, but careers.

Just this week, the CBI revealed the results of its annual education and skills survey saying that too many young people are leaving school without adequate basic employability skills; and raised concerns about the standards of English and Maths of so many young people. 

We offer all of our staff access to a full range of nationally recognised qualifications:

We now see the equivalent of six full classes gain adult certificates in Maths and English every week, and we’ve now awarded 3,000 Level 2 Apprenticeships in Hospitality.

In fact over 12,000 employees gained a nationally recognised qualification through McDonald’s last year

And there’s more than 16,000 McDonald’s employees currently studying.

With so many opportunities on offer, we launched a prospectus at the end of last year that outlines the full suite of qualifications available to our staff, which can now be found in careers advice centres across the country alongside traditional academic prospectuses.

These are quality jobs where you can start hourly paid and progress through the business - over half of my Executive Team started their careers working in restaurants and 90% of all restaurant managers started as Crew. It can also lead to being the boss of your own franchise – as one in five of our franchisees have.

There’s another type of snobbery at play of which I think we equally need to be mindful.

We need to acknowledge that the road many young people take today may not be the one we took in the past.

We need to remove the snobbery that does down workplace learning. For many put off by high fees, this could be the route they take.

We need to remind people of the opportunities and rigour of vocational training. We’ve come a long way from the days of manufacturing schemes being the only option out there for Apprenticeships for example.  Nowadays Apprenticeships are backed right across the public and private sector, and our own programme received a good rating from Ofsted.

For the parents in the room, I am sure, like me, you follow Ofsted ratings pretty closely...but it’s only now I can appreciate the enormous amount of work and determination it takes to meet those quality standards.

Most schools and colleges have one base where they need to uphold high quality standards for students.

Our programme is in place in 1,200 restaurants and getting a programme of this scale up and running, and then maintaining it, takes an enormous commitment. 

But I can stand here in front of you and say, wholeheartedly, that it’s worth it.

It’s important to us that everyone who joins us has the chance to keep learning and to gain nationally recognised qualifications.

While they are with us, our business benefits from higher skilled, more confident and more motivated employees. Many stay, but those that move on do so with skills and qualifications that other employers understand and which will benefit the wider economy.

We’re not alone by any means. More and more of us in this room are delivering nationally recognised qualifications in the workplace.

Where we do it well we can deliver the social mobility that successive Governments have strived for.

The truth is that Britain’s business sector is playing its part in doing the heavy lifting in communities across the country, giving young people opportunities and a future.

Heavy lifting is a phrase coined by The Work Foundation back in 2003 when we commissioned them to explore the impact employers make in providing training and jobs in depressed labour markets.

In 2009, we opened our doors to Leeds Metropolitan University, the Government’s advisers on social mobility, to further understand what contribution we were making.

They were struck by the diversity of our workforce, and found that almost half of our employees have two or more indicators of social disadvantage.

One in five had experienced unemployment prior to joining McDonald’s and one in five has responsibilities as a carer. They concluded that McDonald’s is giving people, who might not otherwise have had the chance, the opportunity to gain practical and transferable skills.

With more and more employers embracing on the job training, we can help cut the corrosive effects of unemployment in our communities. It’s vital that we do or we risk a lost generation.

In turn, it is fair in my view to ask Government to enable this by simplifying process and paperwork around offering employees qualifications. Our Ofsted score was no accident - we appointed a dozen Apprenticeship quality managers whose job it is to maintain rigorous standards.

We set ourselves up internally to guarantee quality and ensure we worked well with the learning and skills sector.

It would be great to see the learning and skills establishment make similar efforts to enhance the way it engages with business, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, which don’t have the benefit of a large HR department like we do.

Finally, young people – and their parents - need to be more open minded about the education and employment routes that will set them up in their working lives.

I know the hospitality sector isn’t top of everyone’s list when they leave school or graduate, but it’s a great time to be part of this country’s hospitality sector.

There’s a host of international sporting events coming to Britain, from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to the Rugby World Cup and Commonwealth Games further afield. 

The sector is already one of the UK’s largest employers, and we’ll need one million more people in the sector by 2017 to support this growth.

Many people’s view of Britain as a destination to visit will be shaped through these events.

Next year it is expected that across nearly four weeks, 9.6 million spectators will descend upon London for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, all wanting to eat out and have an unforgettable experience.

Now is the time for Britain to be investing in the hospitality sector and to find people with the talent and dedication to make Britain proud.

Get it right and we all benefit. Get it wrong and the next generation will be paying for our mistakes.

I, for my part, will be using the scale of our learning and qualifications programmes as well as the enthusiasm I see in our employees, to excite more young people about the broad spectrum of opportunities available to them. 

I also hope that one positive out of the crisis afflicting our young people will be that lingering job and vocational qualification snobbery will be rightly consigned to the past.