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While the nation's unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, at least one national company is on a hiring spree. McDonald's attempted to recruit up to 50,000 new employees in a single day yesterday. It's not unusual for franchises to fill thousands of jobs quickly, especially in the spring. But as NPR's Joel Rose reports, McDonald's is also trying to change the perception of what it means to work for the company.
JOEL ROSE: It's lunch time and there's barely anywhere to sit in the dining room at a McDonald's restaurant in the Parkside section of West Philadelphia. But most people aren't here to eat.
Unidentified Woman: Hi, how are you doing? Sign in right here for me, please. Somebody else can sign it right there.
ROSE: They've got pens in hand, filling out job applications.
Mr. JOHN DAWKINS (Owner, McDonald's): We've had over 400 applicants in the first four hours.
ROSE: John Dawkins owns this McDonalds's franchise and eight others in Philadelphia.
Mr. DAWKINS: I think it's a sign of the economic times that people are saying, wait a minute, I might not have considered McDonald's before, but you know what? They're probably a viable option. So let me go down and put in an application.
ROSE: Whether that's a positive reflection on McDonald's or a negative reflection on the local economy may depend on who you ask.
Mr. JOSEPH MCINTOSH (Assistant Manager, McDonald's): When you hear about McDonald's jobs people tend to just say, no, it's not worth it. But it's definitely worth it.
ROSE: Joseph McIntosh started out at this franchise as a crew member. That was his first job after spending time in jail for selling drugs. Four years later, McIntosh is an assistant manager.
What are you hoping to do for this company?
Mr. MCINTOSH: Hopefully become a GM. Right now I'm assistant to the GM. And hopefully one day they'll possibly let me run my own store.
ROSE: This is exactly the kind of story McDonald's wants to tell. Company's trying to change the perception of the McJob - defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects. That's part of the reason the company held hundreds of open houses on Tuesday as part of national hiring day.
In West Philadelphia, managers mill around the dining room wearing buttons that say Ask Me About My McJob on their suit lapels. Training consultant Eddie Dulce(ph) started out as a crew member before working his way up.
Mr. EDDIE DULCE (Training Consultant, McDonald's): You know, you work for McDonald's it's more than just flipping burgers and working on fry. There's a potential for you to come through all the ranks. When I first started out working at McDonald's - first of all, I didn't even want to work for McDonald's.
But once I got in and it was explained to me, hey, you know, you could have a career. And 17 years later I'm still here. So there's opportunity for growth. I mean, all the way to the top - the very top of the corporation.
ROSE: The president of McDonald's USA, Jan Fields, started out as a crew member. But most of the people filling out applications in West Philadelphia aren't looking to climb into upper management. They're just looking for work -period.
Ms. SHEILA HARRIS: Nobody's hiring right now. It's hard with the economy and everything, you know.
ROSE: Sheila Harris has been looking for work since she was laid off from another fast food restaurant a year ago. Now she's hoping for a job at McDonald's, a company she's worked for before.
Ms. HARRIS: This was one of my first jobs. Actually, 30 years ago this was one of my first jobs, here at McDonald's.
ROSE: Young people still make up a big part of the McDonald's workforce. Sylvia Bivens(ph) is a single mom who's been out of work since November.
Ms. SYLVIA BIVENS: Everybody says the same thing. I'd rather flip burgers and be getting paid than not do anything and just not getting paid. And there's a lot of young people in here today. A lot.
ROSE: And franchise owner John Dawkins concedes that, yes, some of those people will get paid minimum wage or pretty close to it. But he says there's a lot of room to grow at McDonald's if you have what the company likes to call ketchup in your veins.
You mean that as a good thing?
Mr. DAWKINS: Yeah, it's a good thing. Yeah, it's a real good thing. I have a passion for the business. I love what I do. I love selling hamburgers.
ROSE: Right now, Dawkins is hoping to find about 100 people with ketchup in their veins, too.
Joel Rose, NPR News, Philadelphia.
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