McDonald’s tackles youth unemployment with global initiative

McDonald’s is sponsoring new job training and apprenticeship programs in its hometown of Chicago and abroad as part of a new “Youth Opportunity” initiative aimed at reducing unemployment among younger workers.

The company hopes to put to work some of the 64 million young people, 16 to 24 years old, who are currently unemployed, according to data from the International Labour Organization. The initiative is aimed at removing barriers to employment for two million younger workers globally by the year 2025.

The program includes pre-employment job readiness training, employment opportunities and workplace development programs, in an attempt to put a dent in the global youth unemployment rate, which stood at 13.6 percent last year, more than double the overall unemployment rate, according to the World Bank.

“This makes real sense for a business like McDonald’s, as one of the largest employers of young people in the world,” said David Fairhurst, McDonald’s executive vice President and chief people officer. “We think we have one of the strongest suites, particularly around youth, to take people at any stage of development and bring them up the ladder.”

In Chicago, McDonald’s will be distributing $1 million in grants to local community organizations to deliver job readiness training to those who have less access to such opportunities. Beyond that, another $1 million will be distributed in grant money to Skills for Chicagoland’s Future to develop an apprenticeship program with City Colleges Chicago.

The company is often a stepping stone for many as their first job — some 60 percent of its restaurant workforce is between the ages of 16 and 24. Those who get hired at McDonald’s would be eligible for leadership training at Hamburger University and for college help through its Archways to Opportunity program, which awards scholarships for high school and college tuition assistance.

“For people seeking opportunities, we can take them from pre-employment all the way through senior management,” Fairhurst said, adding they hope to reach 4,000 young people in Chicago with pre-employment training, and potentially bring the model to other cities in need next year.

The announcement comes as the U.S. labor market continues to tighten in the face of a strong economy, proving challenging for employers of all sizes in nearly every industry to attract and retain quality talent.

“The U.S. is feeling the pinch of the shrinking labor market, which is why we are investing in recruitment, employer reputation and making sure that brand and reputation is all based on real deliverables,” Fairhurst said. “We think this will be a serious way of engaging [talent].”

Overseas in Europe, McDonald’s and participating franchisees are teaming up to offer 43,000 apprenticeships by 2025.

The company recently commissioned Morning Consult to conduct a study on workforce preparedness that found soft skills including teamwork, customer service and responsibility were overwhelming important for young people positioning themselves to succeed in new careers. These skills were seen as more critical than hard skills like computer programming or accounting. What’s more, first jobs are seen as key in developing these skills.

“The biggest barriers to entry for [opportunity youth] are things like confidence, social skills, communication. Through no fault of their own, they need a helping hand around some of the basics of applying for a job. We are trying to help with those soft skills,” Fairhurst said.

McDonald’s isn’t alone in its mission to provide opportunities for unemployed young people. Other big food and beverage companies including Starbucks are doing their part to tackle youth unemployment domestically. The coffee giant is part of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a coalition of 50 leading U.S. businesses that also includes FedEx and Walmart, committed to reaching 1 million “opportunity youth” hires by the year 2021.

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