More on McA-levels

There’s been more coverage of the McDonald’s A-level story.

Dave Osler says “Palming off teenagers from poor backgrounds with fourth-rate pseudo-qualifications can only further entrench their disadvantage.” I’m sure this is true, and when they realise they’ve been conned into wasting their time getting worthless qualifications, it’ll put some of them off the idea of education for life.

Tim Worstall, on the other hand, says they’re an excellent idea:

I’m really not quite sure why the howls, I think it an excellent idea. Two constants in the analysis of the British economy over the past century (and if you read Corelli Barnett, further back as well) have been that we don’t do vocational training well and that we don’t do management well.So when someone proposes vocational training in management (please, note that this is not training in burger flipping, this is training to run a store), an apprenticeship if you like, I think it’s an excellent idea myself.

A “basic shift manager” at McDonalds doesn’t make more than a bad lawyer, to be sure, but the company, via it’s franchising process, has created more millionaires than any other on the planet so far.

I’ve never run or worked in a McDonald’s but I suspect managing one cannot be too hard. McDonald’s is successful, not because they make great burgers, but because they do so cheaply, and they’ve got the whole thning donwn to a system, a process, whereby each McDonald’s store is run on the same principles. In other words their workers — including store managers — are essentially cogs in a machine with little scope for independent thought or intelligence; they have to be so, because otherwise their system wouldn’t work.

Janine at Stroppyblog thinks it important to remember this is not just McDonald’s, the government is doing it with other private firms too:

The media has concentrated on McDonald’s way more than the other firms involved, with headlines such as Would you like a diploma with those fries? or SuperSize my CV. Maybe McDonald’s is more newsworthy than FlyBe or Network Rail, maybe its brand best represents the radicalism of the policy for its supporters or its ludicrousness for opponents.

We should certainly oppose this policy, but be careful how we do so, avoiding chiming in with any snobbishness about academic purity or suggestion that young people who get jobs in McDonalds do not deserve equivalent qualifications to those whose families can afford for them to go to college. Nevertheless, oppose it we must, for two reasons:

  • It is outside public education and training, and is therefore unaccountable;
  • It is run by private firms, and is therefore compromised by the profit motive.

If McDonald’s trains its staff in, say, food hygiene, then it does not do so in the sole interest of public health, but in the interests of doing just enough to keep the inspectors away and the customers coming through the door.

What’s wrong with doing things on the cheap, with doing “just enough”? I don’t think anything is wrong with it. In fact I’m rather in favour of it. For example yesterday i bought a pair of jeans that cost me £8. Yes, they were cheap. They were also good enough to do the job, and I’m buggered if I’m going to spend more (money or time or effort) than I need to. Or consider when I was a kid and I was studying for exams. If it was a subject I was interested in, I put some effort into it, but if it was something that didn’t interest me, I did the bare minimum I needed to pass the exam.

Doing just enough has one big advantage: it is cheaper, which means everyone is better off because they can have more stuff. If McDonald’s spent more on their food hygeine, bought better ingredients, and had more luxuriously furnished premises, I’m sure eating there would be nicer. It would also be more expensive — and their are plenty of other establishments that are operate in that sector of the market.

The modern world has been created on the premise that it’s best to aim to do things cheaper, with less effort, less time, less money, less care, less raw materials, with less thought, etc. And I’m very glad that’s the case, because if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to write this post, and you wouldn’t be able to read it.

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4 Responses to More on McA-levels

  1. Tim Worstall says:

    As someone who has in fact been in such a training program to be a “basic shift manager” (not at a McD’s but a similar establishment) there is a little more to it than you seem to think.
    Perhaps the most important part is that you end up actually running a shift: you’re the person in charge of that outlet for x hours. You solve whatever problems come up.
    Sure, a great deal of it is routine, all marked down in the manual. But then so is everything in the Army and we don’t say that training to be a Lance-Corporal is a bad idea.

  2. cabalamat says:

    Tim Worstall: “As someone who has in fact been in such a training program to be a “basic shift manager” there is a little more to it than you seem to think.”

    As you say, you know more about it than me. My nearest equivalent experience is I’ve worked in a supermarket on a fish counter (not as a manager, admittedly), and I found that a doddle.

    “Sure, a great deal of it is routine, all marked down in the manual. But then so is everything in the Army and we don’t say that training to be a Lance-Corporal is a bad idea.”

    Soldiering is an inherently difficult task, because there’s this thing called the enemy, who (being human) is every bit as cunning and intelligent as oneself, and out to foil one’s plans. It’s said no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, for good reason. Soldiers have routines, not to turn them into automatons (though that was the objective in the past) but to allow them to concentrate on the things that really are difficult.

  3. MatGB says:

    I’ve never run or worked in a McDonald’s but I suspect managing one cannot be too hard.

    Actually, um, friend of mine (well, best friend of an ex but we’re still in touch) used to manage a MacDs. It’s not an easy job and there’s a fair bit to it—you’ve got a large number of personnel, frequently young and part time, and keeping them happy can be quite a challenge. I’m mostly with Worstall on this one, while it’s been presented badly (and I do hate A level equivalence publicity) I think it’d make sense, and in lower end jobs, even unrlated admin jobs, I’d rather hire someone with real work experience than a big chunk of the school leavers I used to hire for summer placements in the old job.

    (I loath the places and haven’t been into one at all for over a decade, but that’s not relevent really.)

  4. MatGB says:

    Just read your reply to Tim. Trust me on this, in the service sector, replace “the enemy” with “customers” and you’re not actually that far off…

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