Brinker aims to develop employees with no-cost education program

Brinker aims to develop employees with no-cost education program

“Best You EDU” offers English as a second language, associate degree track

Brinker International Inc., parent to Chili’s Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy, has unveiled a new no-cost education program for much of its workforce, the company said Monday.

The Dallas-based casual-dining operator said the program, called “Best You EDU,” was developed in partnership with Pearson PLC, a London-based publishing and education company, to provide opportunities for employees at company-owned locations.

Brinker began offering the program on Monday at its 937 company-owned domestic restaurants for employees who work at least 24 hours a week and have been with Brinker for 90 days or more.

“Our hopes are that we can steer these people into a career into hospitality,” Rick Badgley, Brinker chief people officer, left, told Nation’s Restaurant News.

About 34,000 of Brinker’s 57,000 employees across both brands are eligible, a spokesperson said.

Brinker announced the program in-house last Wednesday, and by Friday had 500 inquiries, said Jessica Bowles, senior manager in the company’s PeopleWorks division, who put together program.

In addition to a no-cost associate degree track, the program offers English as a second language, as well as instruction for workers to acquire General Equivalency Diplomas.

“We’re very excited with inquiries we’ve gotten in the short time span since the soft launch,” Bowles said, adding that one team member had already completed an hour of ESL training.

About 36 percent of Brinker’s hourly employees are Hispanic, Badgley said, and many are interested in the ESL training.

Other companies, such as Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Seattle-based Starbucks Corp., have offered tuition benefits to employees, but Brinker said it designed its program as no-cost.  

Badgley said the program’s cost to Brinker will vary depending on scholarship possibilities, as well as federal and state support, which are arranged through Pearson.

“Where that funding does not make up the difference, Brinker will,” he said.

For instance, Brinker picks up the ESL training costs. Badgley said the program is initially being offered only at company-owned restaurants, but he hopes the results will entice franchisees to participate.

Pearson provides each Brinker employee with a coach to help them navigate the platform, Badgley said. The company said coaches will provide help with everything from gaining Internet access and encouraging participation and persistence, to navigating work and school simultaneously and defining a career path. For associate degree candidates, coaches will help students with college applications and course selections.

While Brinker offers most general benefits to employees who work 30 hours or more a week, the per-week bar was lowered for the education program, Badgley said.

“We lessened that from our 30 hours [threshold] to be benefits-eligible because we wanted to lean in and go a little deeper into the organization,” he said.

The “Best You EDU” program follows Brinker’s launch of a certified shift-leader program, he said.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important to show the workforce the career opportunities,” Badgley said.

As of Sept. 27, Brinker owned, operated or franchised 1,682 restaurants, with 1,630 Chili’s units and 52 Maggiano’s locations.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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