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    McDonald’s Takes Aim at Big Labor Problem

  • Golden Arches to tackle the soft skills gap with new tools, resources.

    Callie Lipkin

    The Golden Arches is taking aim at a big labor problem: the soft skills gap.

    Quick-service giant McDonald’s, which employs some 850,000 individuals across the U.S. either directly or through its franchise partners, is beginning to craft thoughtful, calculated solutions to a problem affecting its restaurants and other businesses across the country.

    “We’ve got jobs we can’t fill and a shrinking workforce, so we don’t have a choice in this,” says Melissa Kersey, chief people officer for McDonald’s USA.

    On July 23, McDonald’s released the results of its Workforce Preparedness Study, an effort investigating skills development and workforce preparedness across generations. Conducted by Morning Consult, the survey of some 6,200 people from the general U.S. population found that soft skills such as teamwork, customer service, and responsibility are in high demand in the workforce, yet remain in short supply.

    And in a people-first business like restaurants, Kersey acknowledges, that’s incredibly worrisome, especially as members of Gen Z—America’s largest generation and the first born as digital natives—enter the workforce.

    “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,” Kersey says.

    The McDonald’s-commissioned study follows other notable studies discussing the general dearth of soft skills in the U.S. workforce, its impact on the U.S. employment landscape, and the challenges the gap brings to employers.

    Despite record-high U.S. high school graduation rates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation reported in its “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” study published last year that many employers are finding recent graduates unprepared to succeed in the workforce because they lack foundational “soft skills” important to workplace success across multiple sectors.

    That report followed an earlier Wall Street Journal survey of 900 business executives, in which 92 percent said soft skills were equally important or more important than technical skills. Even so, 89 percent of those executives reported having a “very or somewhat difficult” time finding employees with the necessary soft skills.

    In the restaurant industry, in particular, where old-fashioned basics like communication, time management, and collaboration are so prized, the shortfall in soft-skill-possessing employees is making it increasingly more challenging to run productive, customer-centric restaurants.

    For decades, many restaurant operators have adhered to the age-old adage, “Hire for personality. Train for skill.” Restaurants know they can teach a new employee the technical skills of the job—how to cut produce, prepare a catering order for delivery, or use the point-of-sale system, for instance—but recognize the difficulty of teaching someone to be a collaborative, helpful, and responsible team member.

    From having a friendly conversation with a guest and showing up on time ready to work to offering help to a mother seating her three young children at a dining room table, an employee rich in soft skills is well positioned to be a standout in the restaurant environment. Those lacking, however, can be more detriment than driver of results.

    “Our nation is facing a seismic shift in the workplace and is in essential need of employee training and development,” Kersey says. “Employers today are re-examining which skills matter most to them, [and] core soft skills such as customer service, teamwork, and responsibility are most important for success.”

    As a large and prominent U.S. employer, McDonald’s understands it has a leading role to play in addressing the soft skills gap, Kersey says. To that end, the Chicago-based corporation has already taken action to modernize its training programs for restaurant employees, including the debut of digital training that places a greater focus on hospitality and prioritizes teaching people skills like customer service and teamwork while emphasizing attitude and communication.

    Kersey says McDonald’s is also establishing new and expanded strategic partnerships with organizations to create novel tools for restaurant employees. Those tools focus on developing skills and link to education and career advancement opportunities. The company plans to unveil those resources later this year.

    “We’ve reinforced where we want to double down,” Kersey says.

    In terms of cultivating soft skills, McDonald’s Workforce Preparedness Study found workforce experience and, specifically, first jobs as being particularly important—more so, in fact, than either home or school.

    That data point underscores the important role McDonald’s and so many of its other quick-service brethren play in closing the soft skills gap. After all, one in three adults received their first job experience in a restaurant, according to data from the National Restaurant Association.

    Soft skills developed in first jobs, Kersey says, establish a strong foundation from which employees can build upon over the course of their working lives, which heightens the value of McDonald’s efforts—and those of many others—to address the soft skills gap.

    “This is not just about staffing our restaurants today, but rather helping people create foundations for their careers,” Kersey says. “It doesn’t matter what our restaurant employees go on to do, but we want them to feel they are better for working for us.”