Blog: Chipotle Rolls Part-Time Employees Into Tuition Program

While burger-fryers continue to fight for higher wages, Chipotle Mexican Grill’s taco technicians are about to get tuition.

Starting July 1, the Denver-based chain will offer tuition reimbursement, among other benefits, to its part-time employees. Of the company’s 53,090 employees, approximately 48,500 are hourly. The company will reimburse 90 percent of tuition, books and fees up to $5,250 per calendar year.

Chipotle’s announcement is another link in a chain of them — in May, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Inc. began an up-front tuition plan for its dealership employees, and Starbucks Corp.’s College Achievement Plan expanded pay for all four years of Arizona State University Online education. Like its counterparts, Chipotle is aware how supporting employees’ college education can help its success. Unlike its counterparts, it’s not afraid to admit that as the first reason to extend benefits to part-time workers.

Because it doesn’t have franchised restaurants, Chipotle has an easier time pushing talent up through the ranks, making tuition reimbursement an investment in the company’s as well as the employees' future.

“It’s an incredible statement by our leadership about how much we want to invest in the best people we have and to keep them with us,” said JD Cummings, Chipotle recruitment strategy manager, at the annual Summer Brand Camp marketing and human resources conference last week.

Chipotle’s target hiring demographic is the high school and college-aged population. Chief Learning Officer senior editor Ladan Nikravan wrote last week about a new study by EdAssist that shows Gen Y wants development above all else from their jobs. It seems like Chipotle read the same research.

Like any quick-service food establishment, however, Chipotle has seen its fair share of angry employees. There are currently nine lawsuits in six states against the company, all alleging that employees were cheated out of their overtime pay. But as McDonald’s struggles to align its benefits for workers — many of whom work for franchised restaurants, removing them even further from corporate control — Chipotle, like Starbucks, is franchise-free and might have an easier time not only assuaging employee complaints but also delivering on its tuition assistance promises.

At the very least, other quick-service restaurant industry players might kick up their own tuition offerings. Otherwise, their sandwich stackers could become burrito bundlers.

This article originally appeared in Talent Management's sister publication, Chief Learning Officer.