Building a Movement: How a New Initiative Empowers Workers Through Education

People First

One of Rick Badgley’s first jobs in high school was working hourly shifts at restaurants owned by his dad.

He worked in the “front of the house” with hostesses, waiters and waitresses.

He also worked in the “back of the house” with cooks and dishwashers.

Rick’s dad took special interest in these “back of the house” employees—so much so that it became part of Rick’s management philosophy as his career took off.

Today, Rick serves as the Chief People Officer for Brinker International, Inc., owner of Chili’s® Grill & Bar and Maggiano’s Little Italy®.

He calls the thousands of cooks and dishwashers at Chili’s and Maggiano’s restaurants across the country Brinker’s “heart of the house” employees.

The Power of Opportunity

As a leader, Rick constantly looks for new ways to empower employees and encourage personal growth.

“You don’t need any sort of degree to be a general manager, but you do need opportunity,” Rick says.

“Our goal is to provide our workforce with the necessary resources to unlock those opportunities,” he says.

That’s why Brinker is launching a new initiative in partnership with Pearson to provide employees with crucial education programs– for free.

The First Step

“My parents couldn’t pay for college,” Rick says. “And I couldn’t afford tuition either.”

When the time came to head off to school, Rick enrolled at Johnson & Wales, a hospitality-focused university.

Johnson & Wales had a special program for students like Rick that made it possible for him to pay his own way through school – he became a university employee on campus.

There, he saw the transformational power of resources and programs built to help those who don’t have the same advantages as others.

“Those programs changed my life,” Rick says.

“School gave me the confidence and helped me find my next step.”

Pathways to Education

Affordability and access are just two of the barriers that may hold employees back in moving to their second or third jobs.

Often times, difficulty fitting education into busy schedules or overcoming a lack of foundational skills can be a significant challenge. Brinker and Pearson’s partnership, Best You EDU aims to address these challenges and bridge the opportunity gaps.

The program offers three components: Foundational Skills and ESL, GED prep and associate degrees.

“I think it’s important to remember that few people want to be a dishwasher for the rest of their life,” says Rachael Bourque, Director of Business Development at Pearson.

“This program helps get Brinker Team Members on the right—and quick—path toward their career aspirations,” she says.

There is no limit to how many people the program can handle and those who enroll can complete a foundational learning program in as little as two months, complete their GED within 3-6 months, and enroll in college – all in one year.

All participants receive dedicated coaching, based on where they’re at in their educational journey. Support will be provided to them on everything from navigating work and school simultaneously to outlining their career goals and areas of development.

Optimizing for Success

Rachael has been involved with Best You EDU from its inception and recalls just how much thought went into the development of this unique program.

“Leveraging industry data, we estimated that 30 percent of Brinker’s Team Members might not have access to a computer or Wi-Fi,” Rachael says. “We knew the program needed to be mobile optimized.”

Still, things were complicated.

“Most people own smartphones, but we know many Team Members don’t want to use up their data plans and end up with expensive phone bills to access the course materials,” Rachael adds.

“We needed to develop a program that considered the needs of the Team Members first to be successful.”

Users will be able to access the foundational education learning materials 100% through a phone application – and they can complete short assignments via text message or a phone call using even the most basic mobile phone and no data plan. The GED prep and college courses are all online and mobile-optimized for use on a computer or a tablet.

“Our program is designed to encourage even the busiest Team Member, who may always put their needs last behind their families, to put themselves first,” says Rachael.

“It’s Brinker’s mission to help their Team Members live their best life, and we believe education enables this.”

Investing in Future Leaders

Rick says Best You EDU is about Brinker’s future.

“We know the retention value of promoting internally,” Rick says. “Yet we hire hundreds of managers every year from the open marketplace.”

Rick hopes that providing employees with accessible education tools will give them the confidence and skills required to move into management roles.

“This is about building better leaders for tomorrow,” Rick says.

“We know we already have the best people working in our restaurants – they just need the opportunity to build the right skills to move up,” he says.

“This is the catalyst to help them move forward.”