Why McJobs present a genuine opportunity for young workers

Core values by John Blundell in The Business

IF any single company excites the sneers of the anti-capitalists it is McDonald’s. Even the term McJob has entered the language from Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X – “a low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people who have never held one”.

It does not have the wit of Samuel Johnson but it captures the haughtiness of all those who denigrate McDonald’s, the fast food chain. There’s just one problem – it is an entirely false characterisation.

McJobs should be praised. They represent significant life opportunities for McDonald’s staff or, as the company calls them, its “crew”. To work in one of the outlets of these hugely successful franchises is for many people not a career. It offers the opportunity to learn virtues that make all its workers better employees. A McJob is mostly a transient one for the young who are usually from middle class or rich families and are doing it to earn pocket money. It is not a job to be compared with a role in the professions. Serving, cooking or cleaning in a fast food restaurant is not to be compared to a long and structured life as a doctor, accountant or lawyer.

We should not mock McJobs, but regard them as a period of work experience for mostly young people – either students or the unskilled. McJobs, or so it seems to me, offer an employment deal that is popular. One that also offers a high degree of flexibility in hours. The company applies itself to teach the repertoire of all the tricks in a business that we might call “hospitality”.

May I offer a more accurate definition than Coupland’s? It comes from a franchise in Los Angeles that is equipped for disabled staff and was the first place ever to coin the word McJob: “A job specially created by the world’s most admired food service company at great cost to give disabled people opportunities not normally available to them”. It is worth registering this as the essence of the ethos and modus operandi of McDonald’s. You can only get a McFranchise if you are a locally engaged and resident individual. It does not allow partnerships or absentee owners. Ninety percent of McDonald’s staff are part-timers. The superior mind might reprimand the company for this, but it only reflects what McDonald’s has observed and confirmed in the marketplace – that many students and housewives want to supplement their incomes and not work full time. The frozen job markets of the European Union need more McDonald’s-style employers. McJobs are a beacon of opportunity.

Many references to McJobs express horror at the noise and bustle in a restaurant – especially at moments of customer surges. To some this is an outrage to delicate socialist sensibilities who seem to invest moral superiority in muesli or organic salads in secluded spots. They prefer the municipal or Soviet model of the staff canteens that close for lunch. After all, if they did not close for lunch, when could the staff eat?

McDonald’s fascinates me in describing what it looks for in its “crews”. It does not seek dexterity in chip frying or floor sweeping. It values most that elusive but crucial quality – “The Right Attitude”. This is a mixture of honesty, a tidy appearance, enthusiasm, a co-operative manner, reliability and motivation. This seems to me to be what every employer seeks. Yet look at the opportunities McDonald’s opens to people beyond the students who are en route to more conventional careers. McDonald’s is an open door to those who would be otherwise marginalised. It offers a rung on the ladder of life where they are equipped for wider working choices. A McJob is