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McJobs help youngsters to make the grade.

McJobs help youngsters to make the grade

When the Oxford English Dictionary defined the McJob as 'an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, especially one created by expansion of the service sector' the worldwide fast-food restaurant chain cried foul.

Executives claimed that the word, first used in the US in the 1980s and popularised by Douglas Coupland's 1991 book Generation X, no longer described the reality of working for McDonald's. To prove their point, they revealed that more than half of the company's executive team started in its restaurants. 'Not bad for a McJob,' ran the 'McPropsects' campaign.

The company could call upon high-level academic support for its claims. A report by Adrian Furnham, psychology professor at University College London, revealed that young people working in the service industry are generally happy, enthusiastic and motivated to succeed.

The Brighter Futures report claimed that most young people had low expectations before entering work in supermarkets, high-street stores and fast-food restaurants. After they began the jobs, though, 'an amazing change in perception' took place, with 85% saying their job was better than they thought it would be. Young people who had done poorly in mainstream education and left without qualifications were particularly likely to flourish in the service sector. 'The young people are happy, motivatived and the work gives them confidence and self-esteem,' claimed Professor Furnham. 'The evidence indicates that these types of jobs are positive for young people.'

In the December 2010 Issue of Work, Employment & Society, Gould analyses survey data from a sample of Australian McDonald's outlets to determine employee and employer experiences and attitudes. The author presents evidence that fast-food jobs offer human-resource advantages, potential career opportunities and, for some, desirable forms of work organization. The findings, like those of Professor Furnham, suggest that the dominant portrayal of McJobs as low grade is inaccurate, with the reality more nuanced.

Further support for this view emerges from Pizza Express, where employees are being placed at the centre of a new strategy to engage more effectively with customers.

In the March 2011 issue of Human Resources, Crush reveals that the company has redesigned its recruitment process to ensure that people joining Pizza Express know how to listen to customers - engage with them and make conversation and menu suggestions when appropriate - but also when to leave customers alone. Existing employees are being trained in the new skills.

The company admits that, at first, it believed its more customer-centric selection method would create a bias towards employing larger numbers of older workers. In fact, though, people across all age groups and backgrounds have met its requirements. As Crush reports: 'Conversation skills are not linked to age and neither are they linked to education.'

The Pizza Express reforms are 'overwhelmingly about creating friendships with customers'. Employees are empowered to say what they like without fear of reprimand - for instance, to suggest that chilli might work better with a particular order than normal oil. Service levels have risen and there is anecdotal evidence that staff satisfaction has improved, too.

At Pizza Express, the McJob has truly come of age.