Skills learned on the job that we don’t talk about enough

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Earlier this year, like so many Americans, I took a new job. Like anyone starting something new, it was exciting. And for a human resources professional, having the top HR job for McDonald’s USA brought a thrill.

But there were also a few who asked me, “Why?” Some voiced the opinion, both privately and publicly, that in taking the job, maybe I wasn’t fulfilling my lifelong ambition: setting other people up for successful futures.

These voices rang in my ears, especially in today’s labor market where employers – including McDonald’s – are going to extraordinary lengths to attract employees. But even here, I saw a contradiction. After all, McDonald’s and franchisees were still able to hire hundreds of thousands of new employees to work at our 14,000 U.S. restaurants this year. I wondered: if the jobs under the Golden Arches were so limiting, then why do so many of the current and former crewmembers I’ve heard from say that the skills and training McDonald’s provided helped them build a better career and a better future?

Taking a closer look, with AACC

I wanted to understand this perception gap. So, we reached out to an organization that knows a lot about skills-building and training, and has a shared interest is guiding people along successful career pathways: the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

We first worked with the AACC back in 2015 when we created Archways to Opportunity, a program that has increased access to education for over 65,000 McDonald’s crewmembers – helping our people earn high school diplomas and college degrees, learn English as a second language, and pursue their dreams. And earlier this year, we teamed up again on a workforce survey that asked Americans about their first job experience – about what’s most important to them in a job, how their careers evolved over time, and the value of continued education.

What we found is eye-opening. Yes, first-time hires valued competitive pay and benefits, which are an important consideration for employees at every stage of their career. But they also found it important whether their first job taught them the critical soft skills that set them up for success down the road.

For at least a generation, HR professionals have preached the importance of soft skills – the behaviors, work habits and leadership traits that help people succeed at work. As a popular article in the Society for Human Resource Management journal once explained: “A talented graphic designer might wow people with her creations, but if she constantly misses deadlines or doesn’t listen to feedback – leading to costly delays or upset clients – her career might stall.”

It’s no accident that LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends report found in 2019 that nearly nine in 10 recruiters say a lack of soft skills is what causes a new hire to fall short. The challenge is that while technical skills can be taught in a classroom – think accounting skills, or engineering, or nursing – soft skills are learned through experience. They are also very transferrable to the next job, and potential employees know that.

Three key categories for skills

Our workforce survey identified three categories of soft skills that employees believe a first job must teach. First is responsibility – everything from understanding the importance of being on time, to completing all the duties associated with a job, to being accountable for results. Second is teamwork – including skills like collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking, and effective and clear communication. Third is responsiveness – actively listening to colleagues or customers, staying focused, and acting quickly and thoroughly to deliver meaningful results.

The survey also found that people who learned at least one skill per category at their first job are 19% more likely to have a full-time job currently, 24% more likely to have health insurance and 50% more likely to report a feeling of life and job satisfaction. When you pair these skills from first jobs with further education, the positive outcomes grow in a game-changing way. People who had a good first job – one where they learned at least one skill per category – and earned an associate degree are two times as likely to be working at a job that creates financial security, and more than twice as likely to report a current feeling of job satisfaction.

Understanding the long-term value of these soft skills is part of what makes McDonald’s a great place to work. We were happy to learn that 88% of survey respondents whose first job was at McDonald’s said they learned how to work as part of a team (compared to 74% of Americans overall) – which led to improved financial security and job satisfaction later in life.

By offering competitive benefits to support employees in the near term, while also teaching the skills that will prepare them for successful careers over the long term, employers can help their people thrive. That’s what McDonald’s will continue to focus on – and we hope this data inspires other employers to do the same.

About the Author

Tiffanie Boyd
is the Chief People Officer of McDonald’s USA.