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Furthering your education might be more possible with your employer’s help

Anna Peters AvatarAnna Peters
September 5, 2018


Some employers offer tuition reimbursement or even scholarships that help their employees pay for school. For all the students who work part-time to help pay their tuition, this kind of additional assistance can be the difference between staying in school or dropping out. And for employees who are intimidated by the decision to balance work with school, it could help to ask your employer what kind of support they offer that would allow you to further your education. We connected with Jason Bilotti, Owner-Operator of West Paces Ferry Chick-fil-A in Atlanta. Chick-fil-A awards scholarships to thousands of employees, this year totaling $14.5 million, to help them further their education. Bilotti shares here about why he thinks it’s so important for employees at the retail level to further their education.

What does a formal education give your employees that hands-on experience doesn’t?

Jason Bilotti: I believe having both an education and work experience benefit our Team Members and our restaurants. Both show the candidate can juggle a schedule, listen and learn from others.

How have you noticed employees grow while they attend school?

JB: I have seen employees grow while they attend school. They can use their classroom learnings in the real world, while also applying their real-world experience in the classroom. This is also when you see students really hone in on their time management and communications skills as well as learn how to handle multiple priorities at once while maintaining a work/life/school balance.

What would you say to a young employee who wants to further their career but is limited by their education level?

JB: I encourage young employees who want to further their career to ask their employer if any educational assistance is available from the company.

While there are a lot of skills to be learned in the classroom, a lot of what makes a great restaurant Team Member and leader is learned through experience. To further your career wherever you are, do two things:  work hard and build relationships!  The “and” is important here – some are really good at one and not the other but being able to do both will gain you respect from the people you work with and when it’s time to move up into a leadership role, others will want to follow!

With automation and outsourcing affecting people’s jobs, how should entry-level employees expect to adopt new skills, and what does that look like at Chick-fil-A?

JB: At Chick-fil-A we incorporate technology to provide the best customer service possible, meet customer demands for speed and make jobs in the restaurant easier and more enjoyable. For example, Team Members now take drive-thru orders using tablets. The technology allows Team Members to go up to a customers’ window, take their order and relay it to the kitchen, all while maintaining one-on-one service. Team Members have learned to change the way they take orders as Chick-fil-A constantly updates our mobile technology.

Although team members are constantly adapting to technology, one thing that remains constant is the commitment to hospitality and customer service.

Choose a college major that applies to the real worldWhat sort of degrees or majors do you believe best prepare your employees for a successful career, and possibly a leadership position?

JB: Our founder Truett Cathy often said, “we’re not in the chicken business, we’re in the people business,” and that holds true today. We look for dedicated people who truly love serving others and want to continue growing themselves. As a franchise Operator, I’m a small business owner, so majors like business management, organizational management, hospitality and human resources would all be beneficial in teaching the necessary skills, but we also look for a heart for service and entrepreneurial spirit. Many of our Operators started their careers as Team Members in our restaurants as teenagers or college students and others had careers outside of the restaurant industry before coming to Chick-fil-A.

What made those Team Members successful and able to grow into an Operator role?

JB: Team Members who are most successful and able to grow exemplify strong leadership skills, a passion for hospitality and enthusiasm to continue to grow their careers, either at Chick-fil-A or elsewhere. They go beyond just selling food and have a true commitment to service.

I started with Chick-fil-A as a Team Member when I was 15 years old at a mall in Atlanta. After attending Berry College, I became a business intern at Chick-fil-A and eventually became an Operator.

Going back to school can imply reduced work hours and increased stress to balance it all. How do you encourage employees to take on this challenge?

JB: As a Chick-fil-A Operator, my investment in my team members goes beyond wages. I want to support their education and career aspirations and the number one benefit I promote to my student employees is flexibility.  I want them to do well in school and being flexible and working around their schedule helps attract top talent.

For example, one of our Team Members would drive home to work on the weekends while he was in college.  We were grateful because he was such a good worker and committed to excellence in both school and work. He finished college in three years and continues to work at the restaurant full-time as he has the desire to be a Chick-fil-A Operator one day.

I would encourage student employees to share their career aspirations with their employer. You may be surprised what your part-time job has to offer. For example, a job at Chick-fil-A can offer experience leading a team, managing social media accounts and marketing, which can be great on a resume later. I’d also encourage students to seek out jobs that offer scholarships.

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