Educating employees: From baristas to BA-ristas

THE youthfulness of the barista serving them has long made it easy for Starbucks customers to console themselves that some of the $5 they are shelling out for a venti frappuccino helps put a kid through college. Increasingly, their assumption will be correct. On June 16th Howard Schultz, the boss of the coffee retailer, told a meeting in New York of hundreds of top-performing employees—and their families—that the firm will pay for their university education. From later this year, it will cover all the tuition fees in the final two years of college for staff who work at least 20 hours a week, and may also contribute to the cost of their first two years. The only conditions are that they must get their degree online from Arizona State University, and achieve a certain number of course credits.This is highly caffeinated PR, at a time when cheaper rivals in the fast-food industry that have been encroaching on Starbucks’ coffee business are under attack for low wages from disgruntled workers and unions. Starbucks already offers good health-care benefits and employee share ownership. However, Mr Schultz says that, “When we talked to our people, help with college was the thing they wanted most.” Of the firm’s 135,000 retail employees in America, 28% are graduates, 32% are undergraduates and 42% (including some graduates) are not…

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