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KFC’s secret ingredient? Learning

In April, KFC commissioned research into the attitudes of employees towards employer-funded learning, surveying over 2000 people across the UK, from 18-65+ years old. Here, James Watts, Vice-President of Human Resources, KFC UKI, summarises the key results.

In the KFC survey about attitudes to learning, the vast majority value access to accredited training provided by their employer over more money in their pay packet. Only14 percent said accredited training was less important to them than their wages, and 18-34 year old workers with some qualifications were most interested in employer-funded learning. Whilst the results were in line with what our experience told us, we were still surprised by the numbers, particularly given the difficult economic climate. It’s clear that employees recognise the opportunity that further education at work represents in terms of long-term career development. I’m a real believer that employers need to step up and support their employees in this way, because I passionately believe in the mutually beneficial aspects of employers supporting the learning and development of their workforce. Aside from the obvious business benefits of improving the skills and confidence of your employees, training and education is a powerful way for business to positively impact the lives of workers and society as a whole. Honestly, this is the nub of what gets me out of bed in the morning. If someone joins KFC with few qualifications, and perhaps not great confidence levels, and we can support them as they grow their skills, and then provide them with accredited training at every stage, we can turn what they might have initially seen as ‘just a job’ into a real career. Whilst I’m delighted when people stay with us for many years, and progress to the highest levels of the company, I’m equally inspired when people leave their tenure at KFC as a more confident individual, with qualifications and much better prospects than when they joined.

In our quest to become the UK’s best organisation for training and development we decided that the most important step was to create a clear career path with accredited training at every learning stage for our restaurant teams. We started our journey with ‘Advanced NVQ Apprenticeships’ for our Team Leaders, which saw us become the first business in our sector to work with City and Guilds in support of functional skills. The rigorous scheme, equivalent to two A Levels, allows participants to study Maths and English, as well as gaining an NVQ in Hospitality Supervision, with 12 months spent on an Advanced Apprenticeship programme, equating to 500 hours of study (both on and off the job) per candidate. Our Apprentices are supported every step of the way with regular coaching and development sessions with their line manager and Regional Training Manager. As well as this ‘in-house’ support, we also assign external online tutors who act as mentors to aid our Apprentices with the Mathematics and English element of the NVQ. Employees who go through the programme are more technically competent, particularly with the financial aspects of our business, and even more importantly are far more confident as leaders on a shift. To date we have 86 qualified apprentices and a further 636 on the programme and are committed to enrolling a further 300-400 employees to the scheme each year.

Building on the success of our Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme we have recently introduced an NVQ Intermediate Apprenticeship Scheme at our Team Member level (our entry level role). Equivalent to five GCSEs, the programme is similar in content and process to the Advanced qualification and provides Team Members with the opportunity to consolidate their technical expertise with a nationally recognised qualification. We plan to expand the programme and we’re aiming to deliver 5,000 apprenticeship places over the next five years.

A further evolution of our education strategy saw the launch of the KFC degree which we are offering in partnership with De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester. The degree is a bespoke BA (Hons) Business Management degree specifically designed for our restaurant managers and combines KFC training with DMU’s existing Business Management degree. We’ve invested £600,000 in designing and subsidising the programme which will enable 75 of our Restaurant Managers to start on this part-time three year programme over the next three years. The degree rewards our best performers and gives the people who never had the opportunity to go to university the first time round the chance to gain a meaningful and respected qualification and accredit the skills they have built during their time managing our restaurants. It goes without saying that completing a degree alongside a full time career is pretty challenging, so we have assigned an HR Business Partner to mentor each of our degree students and support them through their studies, as well as helping them with their long term development plan in order to progress their career following the degree.

One of the most critical tools in helping us deliver our learning and development programme was technology. Having a blended learning approach is important for our diverse work force. So in 2011, we transformed the way we train our employees through the implementation of a Learning Management System known as the ‘Learning Zone’. This has proved hugely significant in not only the speed with which learning is delivered, but has also made it much more engaging for learners – moving from manual, paper based training to content rich, e-learning. This has led to a 30 percent decrease in time taken for learners to complete the new training programmes and a 65 percent decrease in time taken for restaurant managers to deliver the new training. To support this, we invested over £1 million improving IT facilities across our restaurants, including a dedicated learning laptop in each restaurant. We have also recently taken on-board a dedicated Learning Zone resource to develop engaging training modules to meet our business needs as they arise. Our e-learning platform also has virtual communication functionality which we use to leverage cross-functional collaboration, coaching and mentoring relationships.

Sixty-three year old Margaret Partridge, who left school after her O-Levels in 1967, isn’t your typical degree student, but she is one of 21 KFC managers who started an Honours Degree in Business Management at De Montfort University, Leicester earlier this year. Margaret started working for KFC in 1986, taking a part-time job when the amusement park she worked in closed for the winter. She soon decided to stay, and has been a KFC manager for 17 years. Margaret runs KFC in Oldbury, West Midlands and works as a regional trainer for new staff, and admits that she loves the day-to-day interaction with staff and customers so much that she has turned down four promotions. “I was flattered to be asked, but I’m a workaholic! I love the atmosphere in-store, but most of all I love training people to become better than me.”

Although Margaret has completed a couple of night-school courses outside work, she never considered a degree until she found out that KFC was launching the bespoke, employer-funded qualification. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so there was no reason not to go for it. I’m so thrilled to be selected.” Studying Business Management will help Margaret and the other managers gain a better understanding of KFC, and the business world in general. “It will help me learn about the bigger picture, but also help with my decision-making and how I analyse people. That’s so important when you’re training people.” Margaret is determined to grab her opportunity with both hands. “I never thought I’d get this chance. I can’t wait to get started!” Russell Curtis is a rising star at KFC. Having joined the company as a restaurant manager in January 2012, he has already been promoted to Area Manager at the age of just twenty-seven, overseeing some of the company’s busiest restaurants in Nottingham. Now he has been selected to be part of the first ever intake on KFC’s Business Management degree at De Montfort University, Leicester. After gaining two A-Levels in Hospitality & Catering and IT, Russell contemplated studying IT at university, but decided against it after attending a few open days. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the university lifestyle so I went straight into work,” he says. “I regretted my decision almost immediately, but by then it was too late. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and recently taught myself sign-language, but I thought university had passed me by. It’s amazing that KFC has not only given us this opportunity, but is also helping to fund it.”

Russell hopes the bespoke course, which combines existing KFC training with DMU’s business management degree, will give him the chance to build on his business knowledge and commercial awareness, and admits that “the prospect of learning whilst also contributing to my career progression is really exciting.” For Russell, the degree is another example of the supportive company culture at KFC. “There are opportunities at every level, and they really care about everyone who works here. There are no ivory towers or glass ceilings here, even the Managing Director, Martin Shuker, knows everybody’s name.”

Jeya Dhushyanthen began his career at KFC as a part-time employee at the Colliers Wood restaurant in South London to make ends meet whilst he was studying at university. When he left university he looked for a job, but soon realised that he wanted to stay at KFC: “When I finished my degree I tried to find other work but really struggled. There was nothing out there and I hardly got any interviews.” Jeya took on a full-time role and was one of the first people to embark upon the Advanced Apprenticeship programme. He saw this as a fantastic chance to learn new skills and threw himself into his training. “I studied everything from Health and Safety and Food Hygiene to Customer Service and found it really useful.” Jeya was so committed to the course and so enthusiastic that City and Guilds even presented him with the annual Apprentice of the Year award in 2012. Jeya has a bright future at KFC, and hopes to become a restaurant manager in the near future.

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