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New Education Support Keeps Employees From Feeling ‘Stuck’


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John Walker

Restaurant companies are trying anything and everything to keep employees during this tricky labor environment. Almost every operator we at Franchise Times talk to says it’s one of the chief challenges today. 

There is no one cause, but the still burgeoning gig economy, restaurant oversupply and a very low unemployment rate are all major factors. There is no one solution either, but education is proving a valuable tactic for companies that are willing to put in the effort. 

The tuition help and education benefits of yesteryear were a little clunky. Many required employees to pay for tuition up front, maintain a high GPA and essentially put all the work on the employee. For the typical manager or fry cook, that was a lot of additional work and a bit of a gamble—especially for those who weren't always the best students. So, such programs were underutilized and overlooked when it came to being an employer of choice. 

We explored two such expanding education programs at Taco Bell and McDonald's in the June-July issue. Two employees who are taking advantage of the Taco Bell program said it’s a welcome change. The company recently partnered with Guild, a firm that helps companies add education benefits. 

“Guild does a lot of the work for you, they set up all the calls, tell you when you need to send an email or do some paperwork. I think the hardest thing was just getting my transcript,” said Blair Nigro, an multi-store manager known as an area coach in the system. 

He said that’s quite a change from the prior education perks that required the employee to pay tuition, figure out the layers and layers of paperwork and keep a high grade point average. And for the brand and operators trying to keep their best and brightest, it just didn't work. 

Under the expanded program with Guild, Nigro said he’s seen some real results. 

“It definitely reduced turnover and made a lot of stores more stable and it’s created a buzz about the program,” said Nigro. 

He said in one interview, a prospective employee was nearly giddy. 

“She looked at me like I was speaking in another language,” said Nigro. “She got super, super excited, saying, ‘I can’t wait to go home and tell my mom about it.’”

For managers like Nigro, it’s not just a blip in turnover; he said it’s well worth the added cost, at least from his perspective.

“It definitely opens up avenues for the younger generation to explore and develop under us,” said Nigro. “And if we get three or four years out of them, we got our money's worth.” 

And some quick math demonstrates that well. According to TDn2K, the cost of manager turnover is $14,000, the cost for front of house QSR workers is $2,000, and back of house is $1,900. Avoiding the 100 percent or higher turnover rate that is typical today adds up fast.

Nigro first took a Spanish class with some of his coworkers, an early move under the partnership to get people acquainted with the program and the schooling before they commit to a full degree. Now he’s getting his MBA from Bellevue University through the program. He said it would take three and a half years to get the full master's, and he’s planning to stay with Taco Bell after that. 

For Elidia Tiaseca, an assistant general manager in California, the program offers a way back into education. She had to drop out of community school before completing her degree to support her family. Now she’s just finished her second semester of her psychology degree via Brandman University. 

She said the flexibility of the program has kept her engaged. Like Nigro, she started out with a class to get acclimated to school again, something Guild suggests. 

“I hadn't been in school for a very long time and I don’t think I can do traditional school because of my schedule,” said Tiaseca. “So I did a leadership class which was very interesting to me, because I was not sure about the whole online thing but it was easier than expected.”

She said she’ll graduate next May, taking two classes every semester. She said above all, it gives rank-and-file employees in situations like hers some hope. 

“I feel like a lot of people feel like they’re stuck, I don’t want them to feel like that. Taco Bell is a great company but people have other passions and this helps them with those,” said Tiaseca.

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is senior editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is editor-in-chief of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is managing editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
 
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
 twitter.com/mlarson1011.
 

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