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Women in Leadership: Using apprenticeships to get ahead

Rhian Morgan

With university fees set to spiral, if you have ambitions to be a young leader, you may have to use your initiative and think outside the box. Or outside the pre-packaged box, in the case of McDonald’s. Often dismissed as a holiday job, Rhian Morgan asked the UK’s Senior Vice President of People Claire Hall to tell us what the multinational can offer aspiring young professionals

My village has one branch of a coffee shop chain that I tend to frequent when I want to relax for half-an-hour. During my three years of living here, I have watched a shy young barista work her way up to manager. She has grown exponentially in confidence, is always friendly, professional, and great with her staff. I always think what a fantastic leader she is, how bright and personable, and wondered if she’d ever considered university or college rather than working in a coffee shop full-time?

Maybe that’s because I chose the higher education option. I worked in Marks & Spencer during my holidays and, despite being offered a promotion, I rejected the offer and stayed at university. I often wonder what might have been. And for the millions of equally bright, unemployed young people out there, many who don’t want to be saddled with huge debts, university can seem an unsafe bet.

One sure-fire way to get ahead is through an apprenticeship scheme. And frustrated young leaders are now using their initiative to speed ahead of the competition by getting a foot in the door early on. One company that’s runs a successful apprenticeship scheme is McDonald’s. Seen by many as merely a part-time job with no prospects, the multinational is actually at the forefront of harnessing leadership qualities early on, allowing fast-track career progression. It is one of the largest employers of young people, as well as one of the foremost apprenticeship providers, invests more than £40m in training annually, and offers a wide range of nationally recognised qualifications, including a Foundation Degree in Managing Business Operations. It has garnered awards as being one of the best multinationals to work for, as well as securing places in the top 10 in both The Sunday Times’ Best Big Companies list, and Management Today’s Most Admired Companies. It is also a great company for mums to work at, achieving a gold award at the Mumsnet Family-Friendly Awards in recognition of its working policies.

Claire Hall joined McDonald’s UK in June 2015 to oversee the 100,000-strong workforce and lead on customer service, recruitment, training and education programmes, including its apprenticeship scheme. An experienced HR professional, Claire has 20 years of experience in the industry at organisations including Boots, Tesco, and British Gas.

I talked to her about how McDonald’s encourages young people, especially women, to achieve their leadership ambitions:

“At every level in McDonald’s, we have exceptional employees delivering great things for our people and customers, many of those with huge amounts of potential and a desire to do more. It is important to foster a culture where employees, no matter what their background, have the most opportunity to succeed and grow.

“We are passionate about helping young people, equipping them with the skills they need to progress, whether that’s with us or elsewhere. For many young people, this is the first step in their career, and we support them by offering an industry-leading portfolio of training and qualifications.
“Our apprenticeship programme, for example, offers young people the chance to grow in confidence, gain a nationally recognised qualification, and develop a broad foundation of transferable skills on which to build their careers.

“Last year, we identified an opportunity with our female managers in operations roles, after discovering that this group needed a different type of support. For the first time this year, we are running a programme specifically targeting those managers with the potential to excel – from putting in place all they need to succeed in their current role, to supporting those with the potential to progress to make that leap to area manager.

“Our Horizons programme identifies those future leaders in our business and is specific targeted training and support to potentially develop them into area management. This has meant ensuring the role offers flexibility to better support those with caring responsibilities, which we know can often be a barrier to many women making that next step on the career ladder.

“This programme is part of our overall commitment to training and developing our people – we want our brightest stars to see that we really invest in their career and development. From secondment opportunities to head office to training programmes like Horizons, we’re determined to ensure we give people of all ages the chance to shine.”

It’s all about making the right decision for you. Sipping my complicated coffee, which the young manager always quotes by heart with a smile when she sees me, I can see why she chose to make a career for herself at such a tender age, earning money when her friends are no doubt stressing over their finals and dissertations.

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