Making a career in traditionally ‘part-time’ companies

Opportunities abound for those prepared to work their way up the ladder


Just because certain companies are synonymous with “student” or part-time work doesn’t mean they cannot offer worthwhile careers.

This year McDonald’s in Ireland hit a milestone when employment reached 5,000 across 90 restaurants. Roughly half the workforce is part-time, fuelling the view that it’s more a berth for students and people in transition than those looking for a serious career. But the statistics suggest it’s not that clear-cut.

McDonald’s estimates that about 30 per cent of those joining the business do so specifically to build a career with the organisation, and that 95 per cent of current franchise holders started out behind the tills. More than 90 per cent of store managers originally worked out front, as did 40 per cent of head office staff.

McDonald’s receives some 50,000 job applications a year – and those prepared to start on the bottom rung do not need any specific qualifications.

“People can train and learn with us and we encourage and support them to take City & Guilds and other qualifications,” says human resources head Alison Hodgson. “We now have 1,283 staff members who have had their workplace training certified by City & Guilds, which is equivalent to a level 4 qualification on the National Framework of Qualifications.”

In addition, Hodgson says, “around 20 per cent of our store managers and 15 per cent of our retail managers have qualifications from the National College of Ireland. Our operations director, who started with the company 30 years ago, has recently completed an MBA.”

The process to become a McDonald’s manager takes roughly two years, at which point they will will earn a package valued at about €60,000. Assistant managers earn up to €35,000.

Joining an international business also means opportunities to travel. “We have had people move to the UK, to HQ in the US and to Scandinavia to take up senior roles,” Hodgson says. “We also offer opportunities for those working in the restaurants to come and work at head office in areas such as operations and finance.

“We recently launched a video on YouTube, where employees could tell their story and bust the myth that it’s a dead end job where they’re just another name badge. The video has been liked and shared over three million times. When they look a bit deeper, I think McDonald’s surprises people.”

First choice retail

Geraldine Casey joined Tesco as a newly minted graduate in 2001. With a first in economics she had her pick of careers, but chose retailing – to the surprise of many of her friends at the time.

“I had worked in a petrol station as a student and loved meeting people,” Casey says. “My friends were all keen to join the big accountancy and consultancy firms, but having my head stuck in spreadsheets was not my idea of fun.

Casey is now people and IT director for Tesco Ireland, with a seat on the executive board. She got there by completing Tesco’s 18-month graduate training programme. She worked her way up from line manager to store manager to operations director to her current position over 15 years.

“Retail was not an obvious choice for someone with my qualifications, but I really enjoy the buzz of retail and being constantly surrounded by people,” she says. “As an industry, we don’t do a good job at promoting the opportunities available at all levels. We have people with no formal qualifications who have done very well and those with qualifications who have also done well.

“Having an academic background helps with decision-making and handling and sifting information, but for us it’s more about teamwork. We are a family-friendly employer and 50 per cent of our board is female, as is 50 per cent of those working in head office and in our stores.”

Tesco employs nearly 14,500 people in Ireland; those who rise to the role of area manager can earn in the six figures. But Casey says it’s more about the entire package than the actual salary.

“There are a lot of other things in there, such as discounts, pension, discounted healthcare and various other schemes,” she says. “We do a lot of in-house training, but we also support those who want to study elsewhere through our further education policy.

“If people are mobile and prepared to move, there are also opportunities to travel within the company, as Tesco’s has stores across central Europe and Asia. ”

Pumped-up career

Topaz owns and operates 160 retail sites across Ireland and employees some 2,000 staff. A manager with the company will earn in the €30,000s, depending on the site.

“We don’t have a graduate programme as such, but we offer plenty of coaching and support to those who are interested in becoming supervisors, assistant managers and site managers,” says human resources director Ruth Mellett. “We aim to build our talent pool in-house, and the vast majority of our management roles are filled from within.

“Many of those who started off with us at store level have moved into senior positions in the field and in our support office, where they can work in areas such as finance, fuels and marketing,” Mellett says. “Our business is changing all the time. It is a fast-paced and dynamic place to work, where you are learning all the time.

“We offer people support to go for further education and work with Retail Excellence Ireland and the NCI. There are also opportunities if they want to diversify from retail into other aspects of the business, and they can apply for positions abroad with our network.”

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