Back in the summer you may have heard a bit of a brouhaha about a deal signed between Colleges Ontario and McDonald’s, allowing McDonald’s management trainees to receive advanced standing in business programs at Ontario colleges. If you read the papers, what you probably saw was a he-said/she-said story in which someone from Colleges Ontario said something like “Ontario colleges are providing advanced credit for people who have been through a MacDonald’s management training program and that’s a good thing for access” and someone from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) saying something like “Corporate education McDonald’s bad!”
This should have been an unequivocally good news story. It is a travesty that it was not. Here’s the real story.
McDonald’s, a company which employees around 400,000 employees directly and whose franchisees employ another 1.5 million, runs one of the largest internal corporate training programs in the world. That’s not just the famous training center known as Hamburger University in Illinois, which is mainly for mid-management and executive development: they also have training centers in various locations around the world providing training programs for restaurant managers and crews. While not many young employees stay at McDonald’s very long (turnover is something like 150% per year), a small fraction do stick with it to become managers. And those that do receive a substantial education through the company in how to run a business.
Now, if you believe in the principles of prior learning recognition, you’ll recognize that this situation is a slam-dunk to create a standardized system of assessment to award credit. Assessing prior knowledge can be a right mess; assessing knowledge gained through work experience (paid or unpaid) or in other forms of informal or non-formal learning in a way that maps on to some kind of credit or credential system is time-consuming and inexact. But this situation is different. With McDonald’s, there’s an actual written-down curriculum that can be used to do the curriculum mapping. This is – comparatively – easy-peasy.
So what happened prior to last summer was that McDonald’s approached Colleges Ontario to try to work out such an arrangement. Both sides had previous experience in doing something similar: McDonald’s had worked out a similar agreement in British Columbia with BCIT and Fanshawe College had led a national process to do an analogous type of curriculum mapping with the Canadian Military to allow its soldiers/veterans to count various parts of its training programs towards college credentials. Faculty and admin representatives from all 24 colleges agreed on the parameters of the deal, then allowed a smaller technical group to work on mapping all the elements of McDonald’s coursework up to the Second Assistant Manager level of training onto the common (Ontario) college standard outcomes for the Business Administration diploma. At the end of it, it was decided that one level was more or less equivalent to another, and so individuals who had reached Second Assistant Manager could automatically get a year’s worth of credit (there’s no partial credit for having complete some McDonald’s training: this is an all-or-nothing deal).
So what are the criticisms? Basically, they amount to:
- College-level courses need to be taught by college teachers in a college atmosphere
- McDonald’s is a big evil corporation. Why with McDonald’s? Why not others?
- Why isn’t mapping available publicly?
The first argument, taken to its logical conclusion, essentially says that PLAR is illegitimate because no knowledge derived from outside the classroom can possibly count. Presumably people who believe this also believe mapping arrangements for Armed Forces training is also a complete scandal.
The second…well, if that’s your belief, I suppose there is no shaking it. As for why McDonald’s – it’s because they asked. And they had a hell of a well-documented curriculum to present to Colleges Ontario. Presumably similar deals are open to other businesses, but no one (to my knowledge) has asked. As for the third, it’s clear why it’s not public: McDonald’s treats the curriculum of its courses as corporate intelligence – as they have every right to do – and don’t want it published for the world to see. One could make the argument that a decision involving credits at public institutions needs to be to be fully in the public domain. But, one, that would mean that virtually every program at Ontario university is suspect (just try finding curriculum maps or un-redacted program evaluations online and see how many are publicly available) and two, faculty co-ordinators responsible for Business Administration from all 24 institutions (all of whom are OPSEU members, incidentally) all saw the detailed curriculum in confidence and signed off on the deal, which seems like a reasonable saw-off.
In short, this is a good deal. If we want to promote life-long learning and increase prior learning recognition, we need more of these, not less. Bravo to everyone involved.