At a time when labor has become a hotly debated topic for restaurants, McDonald’s is on a mission to bolster the pool of qualified candidates by investing in the next generation of workers. The new program, Youth Opportunity, aims to help two million young people overcome obstacles to employment by the year 2025. The reach would extend not only to McDonald’s staff but also to youths who do not and may never work for the chain.

The announcement comes just a month after the company released the results of its Workforce Preparedness Study. In a survey of 6,200 Americans, soft skills such as teamwork, conflict management, and customer service were disproportionate to the high demand for workers with such abilities.

“Around the world, too many young people are finding that, through no fault of their own, there are barriers to entry into the workplace. We believe this needs to change,” said McDonald’s executive vice president and chief people officer David Fairhurst in a statement. “That is why McDonald’s and participating franchisees are expanding our existing world-class workplace training and education programs to go beyond those that we hire. Together, we will leverage our scale for good and help these young people to develop the core workplace skills they need to get a job and the opportunities they need to kick-start their career and achieve their true potential—whether at McDonald’s or elsewhere.”

To achieve such an ambitious goal, the company is taking a multi-pronged approach, with both hyper-local initiatives, as well as global ones. It plans to donate $1 million worth of grants to various job-preparedness training organizations throughout its hometown of Chicago—in addition to $1 million to Skills for Chicagoland’s Future. The latter grant funds will go toward the creation of a new apprenticeship initiative within City Colleges of Chicago. The program—slated to begin this autumn—funds 40 students to earn their associate degree in business while simultaneously working toward a manager job at a restaurant. Any McDonald’s employee who is also a student is eligible for the scholarship.

Across the pond, McDonald’s and participating European franchisees have set the target of providing 42,000 apprenticeships by 2025. At present, participating countries include the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Switzerland, and McDonald’s indicated that footprint could expand in the future. In Latin America, the largest McDonald’s franchisee, Arcos Dorados, plans to reach 180,000 young people through existing pre-employment training programs. McDonald’s expects other operators around the world will introduce similar initiatives and partnerships with local organizations in 2019. Furthermore, the company has joined the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth under the auspices of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

In the last year alone, McDonald’s has taken aim at the long-term sustainability of its operation through initiatives related to beef sourcing, healthful menu options, and waste reduction. In March, the chain pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 36 percent within a 15-year period (2015 to 2030). That same month it also established the Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council to bolster its earlier commitment to improve the quality (and animal welfare) of its poultry. And just last month, it joined Starbucks on the NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge in search of a more sustainable single-use cup.

But while sustainability is often thought of only in terms of health or the environment, it can also be applied to viable economics. Without a steady pipeline of ready-trained, capable workers, a business will not sustain itself very long. According to the ILO, some 64 million young people the world over are unemployed. At the same time, U.S. restaurants are currently in the midst of a labor war wherein the demand for qualified employees has surpassed the supply.

“We’ve got jobs we can’t fill and a shrinking workforce, so we don’t have a choice in this,” McDonald’s senior vice president Melissa Kersey told QSR in an interview last month. “If we don’t address the current gap in soft skills, particularly for Gen Zs, it will have a detrimental impact on the future of work in our nation.”

McDonald’s commitment to young people serves not only as a philanthropic measure, but also as an investment in its own future—and perhaps the rest of foodservice, as well.

Charitable Giving, Employee Management, Story, Sustainability, McDonald's