McDonald's new employee perk: Career advice

Last Updated Oct 30, 2018 5:41 PM EDT

McDonald's is touting a new benefit for workers as the chain competes for employees in a tightening labor market.

The fast-food giant on Tuesday announced a campaign dubbed "Where You Want To Be." The company said the program is open to eligible employees who submit videos "describing how McDonald's is helping them learn the skills today that will help take them to where they want to be tomorrow." Those picked get to spend a day with an expert, including Bryshere Gray, a rapper who goes by the name Yazz the Greatest. One employee will be picked to partner with an expert in one of five fields.

"By connecting restaurant employees' aspirations with the necessary education tools and career advising services to achieve them, we continue to reinforce our role as America's Best First Job," Melissa Kersey, McDonald's U.S. chief people officer, said in a news release. The average age of those working in food preparation and serving in 2017 was 29.9, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. 

The idea in part is to call attention to McDonald's free job counseling from a career services adviser and a mobile tool that will be available to workers next year to explore career moves. McDonald's described the moves as an expansion of educational benefits that already include college tuition assistance to eligible employees.

The fast-food chain in recent years has also contended with demands for increased pay from the union-backed Fight for $15. McDonald's in 2015 said it would hike wages at company-owned stores in the U.S. by at least a buck above the minimum wage, but three years later clarified that the hike was a one-shot move and not intended to be its policy into the future.  

Added pressure came earlier this month from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who called on McDonald's to follow Amazon and Walt Disney, which have raised their minimum hourly pay to $15. 

"If McDonald's raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour and respected the constitutional rights of your workers to form a union, it would set an example for the entire fast food industry to follow," Sanders wrote in a letter to Steve Easterbrook, the chain's CEO, which the senator posted on Twitter.

A spokesperson did not directly respond to questions regarding what it pays workers, but reiterated its efforts on behalf of helping workers with their education.

"We have tripled tuition assistance for restaurant employees by allocating $150 million over five years to our Archways to Opportunity education program to provide upfront college tuition assistance, earn a high school diploma, and access free education advising services," a spokesperson emailed.

Adriana Alvarez, a McDonald's employee in Chicago and a local leader in the Fight for $15, downplayed the significance of the company's effort, saying it would do little to nothing for most of its workers. 

"If McDonald's wants to make a real difference for hundreds of thousands of its workers like me, it should start by listening to what we've been demanding for the past six years - $15 an hour and the right to a union – not creating a program the company admits will only help a handful of people," Alvarez said in a statement emailed by Fight for $15.