McDonald's innovates and invests to meet growing need for talent


CPO Brigitte da Gama tells HR Indaba: There's a big role for the human capital community to play.

The fast food industry is perceived as offering low-skilled, dead-end jobs. That’s far from the truth in the case of McDonald’s. The company is innovating and investing in staff in a number of exciting ways from a culture-boosting employee app, to its own university.

With over 120 new restaurants planned to open over five years, McDonald’s will create thousands of new jobs – which need to be filled by well-trained, committed employees. Speaking at the HR Indaba in Sandton, Brigitte da Gama, McDonald’s chief people officer, said: “We need the right talent in the right place with the right skills. That meant putting learning and development on steroids.” 

The company is growing the talent value chain by hiring, growing and developing staff, focusing on engagement and culture, and making use of digital technology and solutions.

Kulcha app
The purpose-built Kulcha App is designed to drive engagement and promote the values and cultures of the company. Installed on employees’ phones, it’s fun and interactive. Brigitte explains that recognition and rewards are an important part of the app. It allows staff to recognise each other, to reward their peers for living up to the company culture. It’s fun. Points are convertible for cash and there are other rewards – tickets to the upcoming Toni Braxton concert, for instance.

Brigitte said: 

“Culture is critical. It is the base of everything we do. This is a fun way of reinforcing behaviour, using tech. Our workforce is young, average age is around 25, and this app has landed exceptionally well with our workforce.”

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Training for all
In terms of training and development of talent, the company has a number of innovative programmes, including both internal and externally accredited courses.

Brigitte explained: “There’s always an action learning component, learning is not just taking place in the classroom. And we are making the training as digital as possible. We’ve even put terminals in our restaurants for our crew to use.”

Sixty staff members are participating in the Thuto learnership programme this year. This 12-month programme is designed to develop in restaurant managers the skills and competencies they need today and in the future. 

Brigitte gives the details: 

“We did psychometric testing on the managers, collectively, to understand the gaps and what was needed, and then we built the programme. A restaurant manager manages up to 80 people, so we are looking at aspects like relationships, communicating for leadership success, strategy and risk. It also includes a bridging programme for computer literacy and finance. The feedback so far has been amazing. People are so excited.” 

The company partners with Wits Business School on an entrepreneurial leadership programme, and partners with the UCT Business School on the Alchemy Programme on retail business leaderships.

Hamburger University
The new Hamburger University in Sandton, Johannesburg, is one of nine McDonald’s Universities in the world, and the only one in Africa. The stylish, African-inspired facility includes conference rooms, a computer lab, a library and a cafeteria. 

The ambitious project needed buy-in from throughout the management, starting with the board, which agreed to give up the floor of the Sandton building to the enterprise. “There was a cross-functional team involved in getting the university together – finance, tech, operations, construction. It has just been completed and it’s created a lot of buzz. We want everyone to feel they own this facility, that they’re proud of it.”

Da Gama herself  is visibly proud of the university, and of the organisation she works for. “This is an organisation where you can gain a qualification build a career.  If you are ambitious, you can learn and advance. The career path is crystal clear. You can come in with a matric certificate and no work experience and you can advance through the hierarchy – crew trainer, shift manager and so on. An interesting thing about this organisation is that there’s a low turnover at management level – the longer you are in the system, the more you want to stay.”

She concluded: 

“Employment is a huge challenge in South Africa. There is a big role for human capital community to play in this country, to make a positive contribution. We mustn’t be afraid as HR leaders to step into that space.”


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