Taco Bell is thinking outside the bun, ergh, benefits package with its latest offering.
The Mexican-inspired fast food chain announced this week it’s expanded its 700-restaurant pilot with Guild Education — a technology company that connects workers to college prep and high school completion programs universities as an education benefit strategy — to 210,000 workers at 7,000 locations, including some franchises.
Through Guild Education’s reduced-cost courses and degree programs, both corporate and hourly Taco Bell workers have access to more than 2,000 classes and programs in their pursuit of undergraduate or graduate degrees, college-level education, a GED, or mastery of English as a second language. Combined with the company’s education benefit of up to $5,250 in tuition assistance, paid upfront, and access to federal financial aid, employees are expected to pay little to nothing for the benefit.
“Education benefits are a very important aspect for them, especially for those who didn’t get a chance to finish high school or get a chance to finish college,” says Bjorn Erland, vice president of people and experience at Taco Bell. “It creates stickiness with our team members because they’re going to stay longer.”
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Two thousand Taco Bell employees enrolled in the nine-month pilot program, and 98% of those employees stayed at the company for more than six months, says Rachel Carlson, CEO and co-founder of Guild Education.
“That’s phenomenal, especially in fast casual,” she says, noting the retention rates of workers in the program were 34% higher than those who were not enrolled.
Taco Bell says it looked to competitors like Chipotle, which uses Guild Education, and McDonald’s, which uses Cengage Online High School, to see how the company could be competitive.
“Chipotle is all company-owned stores,” Erland says. “We’ve got our franchisees rallied behind this.”
Unlike McDonald’s, which pays for franchise employees’ education benefits, Taco Bell offers tiers to franchises to choose from, Erland says. The cost, however, is on the franchises.
The company says it expects to know by mid-summer how many franchises are offering the education benefit and to what degree.
“We’re still in the process of having them sign up,” he says.