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McDonald's honored for language program

The Migration Policy Institute has selected McDonald’s Corp. as an honorable mention for its E Pluribus Unum Prizes, which recognize business initiatives that seek to integrate immigrant workers so they and their families can participate fully in society.

The fast-food giant was recognized by the MPI, a Washington-based think tank, for its “English Under the Arches” workplace language program. McDonald's created the English-for-speakers-of-other-languages, or ESOL, program, three years ago and has used it to train 500 employees in 14 locations around the country. The company said the program has an 85-percent graduation rate, with 96 percent of those graduates later earning wage increases. The restaurants that pay for those graduates’ instruction report a 92-percent retention rate among those workers.

“The English Under the Arches program is a very promising and much-needed attempt to provide effective, low-cost instruction to meet the enormous unmet demand for English instruction,” said MPI senior vice president Michael Fix, who also is co-director of the National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, or NCIIP. He added that nearly half of immigrant workers are not proficient in English.

McDonald’s program allows immigrant employees to take ESOL distance-learning classes from their restaurants during business hours, letting them keep family commitments outside work. Students connect with certified ESOL teachers at nearby community colleges via phone and Web conferencing, and the workplace-based curriculum includes communication skills like working with customers, feedback and task delegation. The brand’s owner-operators pay for the ESOL classes.

“McDonald’s has a long history and culture of promoting from within,” said Betsy McKay, the company’s director of bilingual leadership. “Seventy percent of restaurant managers and 50 percent of U.S. company officers, and even our CEO Jim Skinner, started their careers as crew. This program gives immigrants language tools to help them advance in their careers.”

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s operates or franchises more than 32,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries.

Four organizations received E Pluribus Unum awards this year: the New Americans Integration Initiative in Illinois, the Latino Community Credit Union in North Carolina, the Tacoma Community House in Washington, and Upwardly Global in California.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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