As restaurant companies around the industry fight the labor battle, employee compensation is becoming one of the most competitive arenas in foodservice.

McDonald’s announced its expansive investment Thursday (March 29), a $150 million, five-year plan that will boost its global Archways to Opportunity platform and provide almost 400,000 U.S. restaurant employees with accessibility to the program. McDonald’s is lowering eligibility requirements from nine months to 90 days of employment, and dropping weekly shift minimums from 20 to 15 hours.

In addition, McDonald’s said it is extending some education benefits to restaurant employees’ family members—a powerful offer the company believes shows a new level of support in its massive workforce.

“Our commitment to education reinforces our ongoing support of the people who play a crucial role in our journey to build a better McDonald’s,” said Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s president and CEO, in a statement. “By offering restaurant employees more opportunities to further their education and pursue their career aspirations, we are helping them find their full potential, whether that’s at McDonald’s or elsewhere.”

The Archways to Opportunity program offers U.S. employees an opportunity to earn a high school diploma, receive upfront college tuition assistance, access free education advising services, and learn English as a second language.

As McDonald’s mentioned in its late January fourth quarter review, the company is accelerating upgrades to the system, including education for employees, thanks to changes in the U.S. tax law. At the time, McDonald’s said it expects to pour about $2.4 billion of capital back into its restaurants and company in 2018.

“McDonald’s is making it easier for workers to access education benefits and they are making those benefits more generous. The fact that they are extending the Career Online High School program and their college advisory services to family members of workers can be game changing for some families,” said Jamie Fall, director at The Aspen Institute’s Upskill America. “Plus, paying the tuition up-front for workers instead of through a reimbursement process allows far more workers to take advantage of the program. These are all very positive advancements to their Archways to Opportunity program.”

In regards to the Archways to Opportunity Program, the investment looks like this:

Increased Tuition Investment:

Crew: Eligible crew will have access to $2,500/year, up from $700/year.

Managers: Eligible Managers will have access to $3,000/year, up from $1,050.

Participants have a choice for how they apply this funding—whether it be to a community college, four year university or trade school. There is no lifetime cap on tuition assistance—restaurant employees will be able to pursue their education and career passions at their own pace. The new tuition assistance is effective May 1, 2018 and retroactive to January 1, 2018.

Lowered Eligibility Requirements: Increase access to the program by lowering eligibility requirements from nine months to 90 days of employment. In addition, dropping from 20 hours minimum to 15 hours minimum (roughly two full time shifts) per week to enable restaurant employees more time to focus on studies.

Extended Services to Families: Extension of Career Online High School and College Advisory services to restaurant employees’ family members through existing educational partners Cengage and Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL).

Additional Resources: Career exploration resources for eligible restaurant employees to be available later this year.

Creation of an International Education Fund: Grants to provide local initiatives and incentives in global markets to further education advancement programs.

Archways to Opportunity launched in 2015 and has increased access to education for more than 24,000 people, McDonald’s said. It has also awarded more than $21 million in high school and college tuition assistance.

Graduates have received college degrees in Business Administration, Human Resources, Communications, Accounting, Microbiology and more.

“Since its inception, Archways to Opportunity was meant to match the ambition and drive of restaurant crew with the means and network to help them find success on their own terms,” David Fairhurst, McDonald’s chief people officer, said in a statement. “By tripling tuition assistance, adding education benefits for family members and lowering eligibility requirements to the equivalent of a summer job, we are sending a signal that if you come work at your local McDonald’s, we’ll invest in your future.”

“Without the forethought, planning and initiative by all employers, we will not fully prepare today’s workforce for tomorrow’s economy,” added Maria K. Flynn, president and CEO at JFF, a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the U.S. “McDonald’s enhanced offering to employees—and their families—for increased access to further education is the kind of corporate investment that ensures an opportunity for all in the future economy.”

Employee Management, Story, McDonald's