Papa John’s International is offering its employees full tuition to Purdue University online classes — part of the beleaguered chain’s efforts to shift the narrative away from the missteps of its founder.
The benefit, which will be offered to both Papa John’s corporate employees and restaurant workers, will apply to classes at Purdue University Global, part of the higher education system operated by the college in West Lafayette, Ind.
The company estimates the benefit will cost $5,250 per person per year, and it plans to add other university partners in the future.
“This is a great message to candidates that, not only can they have a place to be employed at, but a place to continue to develop,” Chief People Officer Marvin Boakye said in an interview. The new program will “drive our employer brand and quite frankly build retention,” he said.
That issue — attracting and retaining workers — is rapidly becoming of central importance to fast-food chains as restaurants resort to creative measures to find staff amid a very tight labor market.
At the same time, the move acknowledges that rising tuition costs have made higher education unattainable for a growing portion of the population.
Papa John’s also is trying to move past 2018 — which was a year to forget as the company’s stock plummeted following reports that founder John Schnatter used a racial slur on a conference call. Since then, the company has been charting a comeback, and earlier this month landed a $200 million cash infusion from an activist hedge fund.
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Newly appointed Chairman Jeff Smith said the chain is getting back to basics and will be focused on selling good pizzas.