The quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry has long been stigmatized as either a brief stop for teens to earn a little money before they move on or a dead-end job for those lacking training in more skilled professions. It's time for this misguided perception to end, for the truth is that the QSR industry holds a range of opportunities for people to grow and expand a promising career. According to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and reported in QSR Magazine, 97 percent of QSR managers and 94 percent of shift workers had advanced to higher-paying jobs within the industry. And more than nine out of 10 employees age 35 or older had been promoted to a higher-paying jobs.1

It falls on QSR employers to demonstrate this wonderful opportunity for a gratifying career and upward mobility. The following four initiatives can help correct the overall misrepresentation of quick-service jobs and recruit high-quality, long-term professional workers.

Develop a Training Curriculum

Create a working environment that encourages ongoing learning and growth. A training curriculum can serve as a foundation for continually gaining new knowledge, skills and abilities. Not only can a training curriculum help shape new employees, it can help management identify the best candidates and how to recruit them. Steve Kramer, VP of communications for NRAEF, recommends developing a food and competency model built with six competency tiers, starting from basic-level skills to upper-level management and leadership skills. Also, focus on training workers as well as new hires and fostering excitement and motivation at the orientation stage to the management stage.

Provide a Path to a High School Diploma

Some fast-food restaurants require a high school diploma or equivalent from candidates. Not only does this requirement sometimes prevent high school non-completers from applying for entry-level positions, but it can close closes doors for any further opportunities to move up and achieve a better quality of life. High school non-completers are stereotyped just as much as the QSR industry is,  but non-completers can demonstrate their motivation and abilities if given the chance. Provide promising candidates with a high school completion program that enables them to work an entry-level position and eventually advance by pursuing managerial and leadership opportunities. The Penn Foster High School Completion program provides a bridge for your employees to earn a fully accredited high school diploma and qualify for higher-paying positions within your company.

Offer Tuition Reimbursement

Employer-to-employee investment empowers workers and makes them feel valued. Starbucks continues to be in the spotlight here, offering numerous benefits to employees  including health insurance, 401(k) investment options and stock equity. Most recently, the coffee giant launched the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. In a partnership with Arizona State University, this initiative provides more than 140,000 full and part-time employees with full tuition coverage for all four years of college. Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, promotes tuition coverage as a way to afford people a pathway to success and live the American dream, thus even redefining a worker's role in the food industry and strengthening the nation as a whole.

Chipotle also strives to minimize turnover and incentivize entry-level workers by offering full tuition reimbursement, sick pay and paid vacations days for all employees. Equip workers with a high school diploma and provide the opportunity to earn a college education to help lay out career paths, which can include leadership roles and promotions within the company.

Mentor Workers & Set Expectations

Relationship-building helps employees feel valued and recognized, rather than just another worker with a pending expiration date. Eliminate boundaries among managers, entry-level workers, frontline workers and new hires by making connections. QSR Magazine shares how Melissa Winkfield, who started as a part-time crew member at Chick-fil-A, moved up from operator to manager. She credits her boss's investment to jumpstarting her career. Recruit, retain and promote employees with one-on-one training, outside seminars, leadership opportunities and in-house certification.

Also, include expectations and high standards as part of your mentorship program. Expectations provide employees with accountability and responsibility. Many new hires and entry-level workers may approach their jobs with low motivation and ambition. Express the importance of meeting these high standards and hold employees accountable. Employers who can show they believe in their workers' capabilities and potential can help employees not just work at their daily job, but work to achieve goals and follow a promising career path.

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Resources: Photo Credit  (1) The Ladder To Success (2) Chipotle Will Now Pay Tuition For Its Employees, So Guac Costing Extra Finally Makes Sense (3) Starbucks and ASU Offer Four Years of College with Full Tuition Coverage