The following interview is with Julianne Hanner, CEO of Hanner Enterprises, which operates McDonald’s restaurants in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties in Washington. Washington State legislated Lifelong Learning Account programs in January 2012, though there is currently no state funding for the initiative. Hanner Enterprises was an early adopter of LiLAs and, in this interview, Hanner discusses the value they have brought to her business and her employees.
1. One of the biggest critiques of LiLA programs is that they disadvantage employers by forcing them to put resources toward the continuing education of employees, even when that education is not necessarily related to that employee’s job or career with that company. How do you respond to this critique?
Well, the first point I’d like to make is, it’s voluntary. Nobody forced me to do anything. They just brought forth this idea and the idea was, “As an employer, are you interested in helping your employees further their education?” And without hesitation I said, “Yes.”
And it really is not important to me how they want to further their education, what they want to study, how they want to become more educated. I really believe in education and using education to expand your horizons and move yourself forward. So for me, it was an opportunity for me to help my employees become better people and happier and pursue their dreams. Whether or not that dream kept them with McDonald’s, of course I would hope that in the long run that they would stay with my company, but if they didn’t … that’s not necessarily my end game.
2. Looking at the positives, then, what is the biggest advantage of running a LiLA program for employers?
Well, there are many of our employees who want to continue their education but don’t have the funding to. That’s one set of employees.
The other part of it is attracting younger people who have not graduated high school who know they’re going to go to college but don’t necessarily have the financial support and need to save for college. So it’s very attractive for them to work for us, knowing that they can work and earn money now, and work and earn money to put towards their education and really double their savings by working for us. …
As far as our current employees who want to further their education, education makes everyone stronger and feel better, and if that’s their dream, then I’d like to participate in helping them achieve their dream.
3. How has the McDonald’s operated by Hanner Enterprises performed compared to other McDonald’s franchises since the introduction of LiLAs?
Well, for the industry right now, I believe is a 100 percent turnover. I believe McDonald’s nationally is at a 70 percent turnover. And our organization is at a 40 percent turnover and I think LiLA is part of our offerings, our benefit offerings, that help us, and it really does have a halo effect on the rest of your team too because they know that they’re working for somebody who cares about people. So, we want to foster and create that atmosphere because that’s truly how we feel. And I think that overall halo helps us with our retention.
4. Would it be easier for you to run your LiLA program if there was funding committed towards such schemes from the state or federal governments?
I don’t know whether it would be easier for me, but I think it would enrich the experience for employees because, initially, when they had a little bit more money, they had counseling services, coaching services, they had a little bit of scholarship money. That, I think, was a great part of it when they first started as a pilot program. That really encouraged people to get involved in the program and they were so grateful for either the extra coaching or the extra financial incentive. That really worked well.
5. Is there anything that you’d like to add about the value of LiLa’s?
You know, it’s been a total win-win. … When somebody can come to me and say, “I don’t need LiLA anymore,” and I say, “Well, are you sure you don’t want LiLA anymore?”. [They can respond,] “Well, I have my whole year paid for now.”
I mean, that is just very satisfying to me. I’m very happy to be able to help someone do that. And it’s just a win-win. Our crew loves it, our team loves it and I love being able to provide it. I think it’s a great program.
To learn more about Lifelong Learning Accounts, please click here.
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