Managers who complete some of the burger chain's training can bypass the first of two years of a business or business administration diploma at Ontario's 24 public colleges.
Those behind the deal say the partnership is a triple win, benefiting the corporation, post-secondary institutions and the employees-turned-students alike.
One expert says the McDonald's initiative signals a potential change in how Canadians will upgrade their skills to stay competitive in the workforce.
``I see it as a win-win if it turns around the long decline in not spending the time or money upgrading the skills of our people,'' said Alan C. Middleton, the executive director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University's school of business.
Sharon Ramalho, the so-called chief people officer at McDonald's Canada, said the company has a ``vested interest in making sure that we help our people educate themselves, that we train, that we teach.''
Employees who complete two courses at one of the restaurant's training institutes, along with a combination of on-the-job experience, readings and workbook activities, can qualify for the advanced placement, she said.
Workers in other provinces can participate too since some of the Ontario colleges offer online studies, said Ramalho, which essentially means that all of the company's approximately 12,000 managers could choose to pursue higher education.
It's not the first such program in Canada. McDonald's and the British Columbia Institute of Technology have had a similar set up since 2014. Currently, about 120 of the chain's managers are enrolled, she said.
The McDonald's workers can choose to continue working while studying thanks to flexible work arrangements, Ramalho said. For those who take the year off while studying, Ramalho said she's not too concerned about losing them to different employers post-graduation.
The management turnover rate at McDonald's Canada is about 10 to 15 per cent a year, she said, as benefits and career opportunities keep retention high.
The colleges, however, may not seem like winners in the program given they're losing out on the first year's tuition.
``That's a bit of a double-edged sword,'' said Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario. But she says, in fact, it may help colleges attract more students because many of them might have considered multiple years of schooling too big a hurdle.
``We may actually gain students that way that we would never have gotten otherwise.''
Franklin added that Colleges Ontario spent three years reviewing the McDonald's training. Ramalho said it covers some of the same skills, like marketing and leading teams, that employees might learn in business school.
Middleton, however, says the measure of success will come after the first batch of McDonald's managers completes their second year and schools can track how well they performed.
But he adds it presents an innovative way forward for employee training, adding that for decades, neither governments nor corporations have been spending much money on helping Canadians enhance their skills.
It's likely other organizations and post-secondary institutions will try to emulate McDonald's Canada, he said, since more employers are now thinking about the responsibility to help employees upgrade their training.
Franklin said Colleges Ontario is not speaking to any other companies or departments about similar arrangements, but predicts similar partnerships on the horizon.
“I can't imagine this will be the last,” she said.
A job at McDonald's Canada could now help workers earn a college diploma.