50 Jobs in 50 Days: We're loving it... jobs scheme lets us live life in fast food lane
Fast food giant McDonald's has endorsed 50 Jobs in 50 Days, the Belfast Telegraph's new campaign to encourage companies to take on apprentices.
The business, which has 26 restaurants around Northern Ireland and employs 2,000 people, already has a well-established apprenticeships programme.
The scheme has helped around 500 people in Northern Ireland to gain qualifications.
Employee Declan Irwin (25), from Craigavon, Co Armagh, said the apprenticeship scheme had enabled him to secure vital qualifications.
Declan left school at 16 without any qualifications, although he did find work with a scaffolding company soon after.
That business closed down during the recession, and he struggled to find work afterwards.
"I was unemployed for a long time and found it hard to get work because I didn't have any formal qualifications," he said.
He eventually got work at McDonald's, where the company apprenticeship scheme appeared to be an attractive option because it would give him a chance to boost his maths and English.
"I had a rough time at school," he said. "I left without passing my exams, so the apprenticeship was a great chance for me to get my English and maths qualifications. At first I was wary because I'd had a bad experience before, but I was able to learn online at my own pace and found I really enjoyed the course.
"Now I'll always have my qualifications to fall back on."
He has enjoyed learning more about the business during the training, which has included learning about where McDonald's food comes from.
"It was really interesting to find out about the wider business, especially things like the farming side."
Getting qualifications has aided him in all areas of his life. "It's really helped me with my confidence. In the restaurant, I always wanted to stay in my comfort zone in the food preparation area but now I can work in different areas and enjoy speaking with customers.
"Outside of work, having qualifications has given me the confidence to start learning again. I enjoy gardening so I'm now looking at horticultural courses that I can take in my spare time."
Now that he's done his own apprenticeship, he is learning how to become a trainer so that he can pass his knowledge on to new employees.
And he is interested in progressing up the ladder.
"I'd like to stay with the business and train to become a manager – I'd never have thought that possible before the apprenticeship. A job at McDonald's is much harder than people think.
"You have to work at it but you can get promoted if you push yourself."
Eimear Quinn (19) is another staff member who has found the McDonald's apprenticeship scheme has helped focus her mind on career opportunities within the business.
"I am really enjoying the apprenticeship and the skills I am acquiring through the on-the-job training are invaluable," she said.
"I have excellent mentors who are guiding me through the programme and their knowledge and passion for the job are infectious."
She said she would encourage colleagues to join the scheme.
"It's a chance to gain qualifications which you would never otherwise be able to achieve."