Online training use rises, as McD's turns to NRAEF for content

Online training use rises, as McD's turns to NRAEF for content

News

A recent agreement between McDonald's Corp., parent of the world's largest restaurant chain, and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, or NRAEF, underscores the forward momentum of online training.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald's and the NRAEF of nearby Chicago said all 13,700-plus U.S. McDonald's restaurants now have online access to the foundation's widely used ServSafe Manager Certification Training course in food safety, as well as to its related exam.

In other recent online training news, Texas Roadhouse , the Louisville, Ky.-based casual-dining chain, hired a content development specialist. (See "Texas Roadhouse finds online training resources [2]")

Given the seven  to 10 management employees typically employed by domestic McDonald's restaurants, the arrangement with the NRAEF means that between 96,000 and 137,000 U.S. McDonald's workers now have the option to train online in English or Spanish at any time and at their own pace. Online trainees also may take advantage of Web-based-course amenities, such as "study guides" that provide supplemental information in the form of printable charts, audio and video content, interactive exercises to reinforce key concepts and bookmarks.

Diana Thomas, McDonald's Corp. vice president of U.S. training, learning and development, said the managers at all of the chain's domestic restaurants — both company-operated and franchised — must complete the ServSafe course and pass the exam. But she stressed that those employees may do so using conventional printed materials and testing procedures if they are not inclined to use the Web-based tool.

"We use a blended approach involving some online training, some classroom training and some shoulder-to-shoulder training," Thomas said. She added that the chain has received "very positive feedback" from employees about the new ServSafe online option but pointed out that some staffers still "do better with face-to-face" instruction.

Online training can reduce an employer's training costs related to classroom or one-on-one instruction and can resonate strongly among some of the younger people who often work in restaurants, contend some boosters, including the NRAEF.  Advocates say the technology can deliver other benefits, such as a consistent presentation of the training message, while reducing paperwork and creating a digital record of program participants, their coursework and their exam scores.

Some restaurateurs and consultants point out that it can cost more, at least initially, to create online content, compared with conventional printed materials, and that the technology may put off some older or less educated workers. However, they often add, digital content is more easily updated, and distribution costs can be a fraction of those associated with printed materials once a company has systemwide Internet or wide area network connectivity and unit-level computers with browser software.

The beauty of the McDonald's-NRAEF deal is that the NRAEF has the Web-based content and McDonald's has the trainees — potentially by the tens of thousands.  Such an arrangement could help the NRAEF amortize its content development costs at an accelerated rate and save McDonald's money, compared with what it might spend for conventional training or developing its own online materials.

McDonald's highly regards the NRAEF's training materials, and that fact, it would appear, made the partnership possible.

"ServSafe brings the comprehensive training our employees need to serve our customers the safest food possible, and the online program brings them everything they need to know right at their fingertips," Thomas said.

The NRAEF worked with McDonald's to make it easier for the foodservice giant to use the foundation's online products, which are available to all operators. To that end, the foundation collaborated with the chain to create a customized portal page, with secure login, linking McDonald's users to ServSafe online, according to Alisha Gulden, NRAEF director of market solutions. She indicated that her group also created for McDonald's customized user guides, student instructions and answers to frequently asked questions, or FAQs, about training and certification.

Gulden said accommodating the McDonald's business required no additional hardware or software for the foundation's online training infrastructure. And Thomas said no new restaurant-level hardware or connectivity was required on the McDonald's front, as training computers have been required for some time.

Neither McDonald's nor NRAEF officials are talking about what sort of volume discount McDonald's may have received, if any. Online training for managers at standard pricing is $125 at the NRAEF's ServSafe website, located at www.servsafe.com [3]; online exam vouchers are $35.

If the price McDonald's is paying for online access to ServSafe training is secret, the fact that the chain is poised to save money is not. "We're seeing that it is trending to be more cost effective," Thomas said of online training, compared with instructor-led efforts.