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Fast-food king has openings

With surging demand, McDonald’s hosts hiring event to fill 50,000 jobs

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / April 19, 2011

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The hiring market is anything but slow for the fast-food king.

McDonald’s is holding a national hiring event today to fill 50,000 positions, including 2,200 in Massachusetts — the biggest hiring initiative in company history — to keep up with an uptick in business and a growing number of 24-hour stores. But these jobs, for everything from cashiers to maintenance workers to managers, which the company expects to fill over the next few months, aren’t just about flipping burgers.

McDonald’s has had interest from a bigger pool of applicants during the downturn — including college graduates, professionals, and people looking to supplement full-time jobs. Company officials and analysts expect numerous qualified candidates to show up looking to make a career at McDonalds, as the national unemployment rate hovers at 9 percent.

“Part of the reason you go to college is so you don’t have to work at McDonald’s,’’ said Bob Kelleher, founder of the Waltham workplace consulting firm Employee Engagement Group. “But these have been really challenging times.’’

Marleen Kalinowski, 27, started working at a Fall River McDonald’s in 2008 after relocating from Florida with her two young children. After starting out at the front counter and the drive-through, Kalinowski worked her way up to assistant manager, and now has visions of running her own restaurant. It was just a job at first, but now that she’s a salaried employee with benefits, Kalinowski likes the security that comes with working for one of the world’s largest restaurant chains.

“I don’t see McDonald’s going anywhere in the future,’’ said Kalinowski, who is also taking online psychology courses through the University of Phoenix.

Working at McDonald’s is not traditionally seen as a career path, so much so that “McJob’’ has become slang for a low-wage, dead-end job, but at today’s hiring event, police officers, bankers, and other former McDonald’s employees — along with lo cal politicians, store owners, and corporate officials — will be in stores to discuss career opportunities at McDonald’s.

“I’m proud of my McJob,’’ said Robert Garcia, a McDonald’s vice president and general manager for the Boston region, which includes New England and Albany, N.Y. “With a McJob comes a McPaycheck.’’

Interest has been high at other McDonald’s hiring events, officials say. At one held for the Western US region last year, 60,000 people applied for 13,000 positions.

More than three-quarters of McDonald’s restaurant managers and half its franchise owners started off as crew members; Garcia was wiping tables at a Florida McDonald’s when he was 15. Local crew member jobs start around $8 an hour; store managers make up about $50,000 a year.

“I truly believe that this is one of a very few select careers that you can start at an entry-level position, and end up working for yourself or being the CEO,’’ said Sam McBee, 26, who started off as a crew member when he was 14 and last fall bought one of the 13 restaurants his parents own. McBee has a dozen positions open at his store in Bridgewater.

McDonald’s officials say they are in need of so many new employees because of growing demand — comparable US sales in the fourth quarter of 2010 increased 4.4 percent over the year before — especially for newer menu items such as cappuccinos and oatmeal. Some of these additions, such as fruit smoothies, require an employee or two dedicated just to running the machines that make them.

Stores also need additional employees to staff expanded hours and late-night dining options. About half of the 650 McDonald’s restaurants in New England and Albany are open 24 hours; some have started serving breakfast at midnight in the last few months, and have opened up the dining room as well as the drive-through, around the clock.

Locally, the restaurant industry has been growing slowly but steadily over the past few years, with accommodation and food services jobs rising 5 percent in Massachusetts since March 2009.

McDonald’s is wise to beat the hiring drum now, said employment specialist Kelleher. The Massachusetts unemployment rate fell to 8 percent in March, the lowest level in almost two years, and competition from firms that are more attractive to college graduates is bound to heat up.

“The window of opportunity for the McDonald’s of the world to scoop up some really talented college kids is probably going to be a pretty short window,’’ he said, “because companies are hiring again.’’

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase@globe.com.