On Sept. 4, service workers in more than 150 cities began a revolt against low wages. The continued nonviolent displays of civil disobedience prove workers' determination to "fight for $15." For demonstrators, walking out on jobs and risking arrest were small prices to pay compared to the potential rewards of an increased minimum wage. For fast food workers- many of whom are adults trying to support families-the strikes represent more than money; they're also fighting for union recognition, fair treatment and opportunities for a better life.

The debate about QSR workers and low wages is nothing new. Fast food employees have battled low wages for years, and a resolution has yet to be reached. While service workers struggle to pay bills and raise families, restaurant owners contend with high turnover rates and costly hiring and training expenses-which may cost even more to bottom line than a wage increase.

At the root of the problem lies a lack of education and training. Without it, employees are trapped in a cycle of not being able to advance in a direction that leads to increased wages. This causes heavy turnover, resulting in the costly recruiting and hiring efforts. By offering your employees a path to education, together you can form a win/win scenario comprising advancement opportunities for workers and reduced turnover for businesses.

Education: Where Jobs End and Careers Begin

Sadly, jobs in today's service sector are marked by low wages and few (if any) benefits. Rather than a stepping stone toward a career, low-income workers face growing obstacles to gaining the education and skills that would help them rise into the middle class, according to the Seattle Times.1 Since 40 percent of fast food workers over are the age of 25 and almost 60 percent are high school non-completers,2 companies can gain motivated adult workers by providing them an opportunity to complete their education.

Blair Taylor, who heads Starbucks' corporate-responsibility efforts, said that by helping high school non-completers, who number about 7 million, companies are helping themselves. "They are needed as part of our labor pool," he said in an interview with The Seattle Times. "We won't be able to fill the jobs we have unless we have them properly engaged."1

In the fast food sector, workers may go in seeking jobs, not realizing the opportunity for future within the organization. But with an investment in their future, employees will be more apt include that company in their future plans. Your organization can also reap the benefits of long-term employees, especially since nine in 10 salaried restaurant employees started as hourly workers.3 The trick is to offer them a path to an education. This education then grants them the opportunity to grow within a company, opening doors for advancement and increased wages.

Foot in the Door

The negative publicity being given the fast-food industry during the recent wage protests also affects small business owners and franchisees. "The restaurant industry is dominated by small businesses. More than seven in 10 eating and drinking establishments are single-unit operations," Melvin Sickler, owner-operates of Auntie Anne's Pretzels and Cinnabon franchises in New Jersey, told NBC. "Food and labor costs are the two most significant line items for a restaurant. With average pre-tax margins of roughly 4 to 6 percent, increases in food and labor costs can have a dramatic impact on a restaurant's bottom line."4

QSRs aren't the "bad guys" portrayed by the media; rather, they are a place for job seekers to get their foot in the door of a thriving industry. Reports by the National Restaurant Association show that eight in 10 restaurant owners started their industry careers in entry-level positions.3 Because of the nature of the potential impact to small and medium-sized businesses, fast food giants like McDonald's report they "believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time, so that the impact on owners of small and medium-sized businesses-like the ones who own and operate the majority of our restaurants-is manageable."4

Offering education opportunities such as a high school completion program or on-the job training is great way to offer a benefit that doesn't break the bank yet still accomplishes the common goal of advancement/higher wages. It helps change an employee's perspective from having a job to establishing a career. For example, if a high school completion program is implemented, as an employer, you will attract motivated workers that want to get an education. Once they get that education, they'll become top candidates for higher positions within your organization, increasing retention rates and saving your business money in the long run.  

Big Industry, Big Opportunities

Overall, the current state of the restaurant industry is booming, and this promising future means jobs within the industry are likely to have staying power. "Restaurants are the cornerstones of communities across the country," said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. "From the local sandwich shop to the city steakhouse, the restaurant industry provides job opportunities to 13.5 million Americans and has become an essential part of our everyday lives."4

As a member of the QSR industry, you know all too well employee turnover is one of the biggest problems facing the day-to-day operations of your business. With the industry on the upswing, not only is losing an employee an operational pain, but it's costly, too.5 By investing in your employee's education, you'll create a workplace environment fit for professional growth. Nearly one-half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives, and one-third of all Americans got their first job working in a restaurant.4 But QSR jobs don't have to be merely a stop on the career path.  As the nation's second largest private sector employer, restaurants continue to be economic drivers, employing nearly 10 percent of America's workforce.4 With the right offerings, like a high school completion program or other forms of educational development, jobs can turn into lifelong careers.

What do you think about the opportunity QSR establishments have increase employee retention by focusing on their educational development? Let me know in the comments below.

Resources: Photo; (1) The Fast Food Worker Strike Highlights the Need for Cooperation on Education Reform (2) National Restaurant Association (3) Burgers, Pizza and Fries: Fast Questions About Fast Food Strikes (4)Restaurants rank as top industry, Gallup poll says (5) Want to Keep Your Employees Around? Here's How