Starbucks offering no-strings-attached college help to workers; the opposite of nasty non-compete agreements

by Bob Sullivan on June 16, 2014

Starbucks.com

Starbucks.com

If you love someone, set them free. And if you respect someone, you want the best for them — whether you are with them for a week, a year, or a lifetime.  In an age when employers are increasingly are using fine print to ensnare workers with less-favorable terms, such as non-compete agreements, Starbucks took a step today that sounds downright enlightened in its largesse.

The coffee giant said Monday it will pay for  employees to go to college and, quite significantly, will not expect anything in return. It won’t require workers to pay back their tuition if they leave after graduation. In other words, it won’t hold them back from going on to bigger and better things.  It’s a decision to be celebrated and, let’s hope, imitated.  Many Americans can’t afford health care or college, and Starbucks is now stepping in to replace some of that missing social safety net. Bravo.

I recently spoke to an out-of-work teacher who told me she was banned from taking a part-time tutoring job because of another part-time tutoring job she held two years ago.  The firm told her she can’t even take private students, she said, under terms of an oppressive non-compete agreement she was forced to sign. Those horrific employment “contracts” are the very manifestation of the darkest side of American business today. Perhaps Starbucks provides a worthy counterbalance.  (Starbucks has been involved in non-compete fights with managers, but best as I can tell, does not force front-line employees to sign them).

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A long time ago, I was editor of a small weekly newspaper where we paid terrible wages. There was no hope of keeping reporters there for any length of time; in fact, I wouldn’t have wanted any reporters who wanted to stay there for many years. When I hired someone, I promised that, if they gave me their best for one year, I would do whatever I could to help them get a better job at a better paper.  It worked. I was happy for them when they moved on. Many remain friends.  Most important, I believed that was the only way to do business. It gave me a steady stream of excellent workers.

House ad 450wStarbucks has apparently come to the same conclusion. Employees who leave after getting a degree on Starbucks’ dime will only bolster the firm’s brand, CEO Howard Schultz told The New York Times.   He added that he thought plenty of workers would stay on.

“I believe it will lower attrition, it’ll increase performance, it’ll attract and retain better people,” he said.

On its website, Starbucks said one main driver of the program is the number of employees who have begun, but not completed, college.

“Starbucks believes in the promise and pursuit of the American Dream. While more than 70%  of our U.S. partners (employees) are students or aspiring students, we know that only half of Americans who begin college today will actually finish, largely due to financial and work/life
barriers,” the firm said. “We’re in a position to help. Education is one of the very best investments our partners can make, and investing in our partners is the best investment Starbucks can make.”

You can read more about Starbucks “College Achievement Program” program on the companies’ website.

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