According to a recent META Group report, almost 80 percent of IT organizations said that a lack of enterprise project management capabilities was a key issue for their workforce. For IT managers and chief information officers facing this issue, ensuring that the workforce is skilled and knowledgeable is an imperative. For McDonald’s Corp., where IT project management represents a critical business function contributing to competitive advantage, classroom education is the first step in the learning process for project managers. But now through a workforce development grant from the Department of Labor, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is collaborating with McDonald’s on an apprenticeship program that will help project managers take their classroom learning and apply it to their daily work, while reinforcing best practices in IT project management.
According to Alice Rowland, I/S organization development manager, McDonald’s Corp., the company decided to work with CompTIA on the apprenticeship program because it fits well with the learning initiatives already in place for project managers. Prior to starting the apprenticeship program, McDonald’s offered continuing education for its project managers and for professionals in project-management-related roles. Rowland explained that this continuing education was primarily classroom-based with a community of practice for project managers to share best practices.
“But whether it’s for project management for IT or anything else, the challenge is to transfer classroom training knowledge to changed and improved practices on the job,” said Rowland. “That’s the big challenge that business educators face, right?”
Rowland explained that the first year of the project management continuing education program is about getting people into the classroom and involved in the classroom education and communities of practice. But in the second year, she said, “it really became less about butts in the seats and more about improvement and measurement. That’s a very difficult transition to make in this sort of nebulous education and training world.”
In searching for a way to help learners move from classroom learning to on-the-job best practices, Rowland came across the apprenticeship idea. “Of course, when most people, me included, think about apprentices, you think, ‘Well, we don’t really have plumbers and carpenters here, so how do we do that?’” explained Rowland. Working with the Department of Labor and CompTIA, Rowland has innovated on the program to fit McDonald’s needs. She added, “It’s a great balance between the classroom education and on-the-job improvement because anybody who’s really serious about learning in a business environment knows that most learning occurs on the job. Classroom education is absolutely important—I’m not saying it isn’t—but it’s not the whole story, and this is just a great augmentation to the classroom.”
There are 10 apprentices at McDonald’s who have both bachelor’s degrees as well as foundation-level experience in IT project management. These apprentices get guidance and insight from six experienced project managers, who are designated as mentors. Then, three senior-level project manager work as coaches to provide extra support for the apprentices.
Apprentices are able to get involved in all of the opportunities offered to McDonald’s larger project management audience, but they also receive specialized attention as apprentices. “Primarily, the apprentices get time every month with their mentor, …and they go through the work that they’re currently doing, they talk about issues, other ways to do things, devise solutions, work through issues,” said Rowland. In addition, there are 37 “job qualification items” that apprentices must prove they are able to do to prove their ability to perform and function in the job role. Apprentices also receive specialized classroom education, and they meet with each other, Rowland and an external subject matter expert to further discuss the issues raised by projects they are working on.
Rowland added, “We also have them practice giving milestone review presentations. It’s similar to the kind of presentations that people would give at our client review boards or our quarterly review meetings, so they’re actually getting practice presenting their project information to a review audience.”
The program also includes assessments and milestones for each apprentice. CompTIA’s IT Project+ certification serves as a standard, which Rowland said was chosen for its focus on the practical needs of foundation-level IT project managers. “Just paying attention to this whole process is really helping us think about where certification fits in,” said Rowland. “We’re aligned with CompTIA’s Project+, and we think that for the apprentices, it’s the path we’d like to take them on, and then pair that with the PMP (the Project Management Professional certification from PMI, or the Project Management Institute) perhaps later.”
One of the first noticeable benefits of the apprenticeship program was the documentation of the core skills needed by project managers throughout a project lifecycle. “Just getting that down on paper and getting consensus around what those things are—that’s a huge benefit,” said Rowland. “We’re using that as a way to guide people’s development. You have the road map there for people, so it becomes less instructor- and administrative-driven because you give the individual the set of things they need to work on.”
Another benefit is the goodwill felt by employees—both apprentices and mentors, said Rowland. “Since most of our work is project-related, people are forced to work in groups and communicate with people,” she said. But, she added, “They’re actually feeling more independent and isolated than I think they have previously. So it’s a bit counterintuitive, but I think one of the big benefits is that their feeling supported. They’re feeling part of a structure where they can get some additional learning, they have access to information that they didn’t have before, they can be seen as specialists in particular areas, and they’ve got a message that other people are interested in hearing.”
The apprentices and mentors alike are taking that message back to their peers outside of the program. Rowland explained that McDonald’s is also measuring these “ripples in the pool.” She explained, “My hypothesis was that we would impact far more than 10 apprentices and six mentors, and that hypothesis, at least initially, is being proven out, which is very exciting.”
Rowland hopes to be able to expand the apprenticeship program into additional groups and adds that eventually the current apprentices might become mentors of future apprentices. “I’m hoping that it has this sort of momentum, and that it’s a self-perpetuating process,” she said.
Emily Hollis is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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