Career Path: Why Hourly Employees Need One and How to Train for It

Penn Station East Coast Subs created My Penn Path, a career path and training program that helps guide employees from entry-level crew member up through the organization’s management ranks.

In the restaurant industry, great general managers have always been difficult to find. As the economy has improved in recent years, finding good assistant managers and crew leaders has become increasingly more difficult, as well. To combat this challenge, we decided to be more aggressive in our focus on filling open positions in our restaurant by promoting from within. Novel? No. Necessary? Absolutely.

When possible, business leaders in any industry prefer promoting an existing employee to hiring from outside the organization, but the right training is needed to ensure existing employees are ready to be promoted. We knew having employees ready to promote to those hard-to-fill positions was ideal, but we had to figure out a way to more quickly prepare those employees for promotion.

To help our franchisees and general managers in this process, we created My Penn Path, a career path and training program that helps guide employees from entry-level crew member up through the organization’s management ranks.

Present a Career Path to Potential Employees

When potential hourly employees come in for an interview, we now present them with a career path: crew member to crew leader to assistant manager to general manager. This shows entry-level employees the opportunity they have before them in regard to a career with the Penn Station brand. More importantly, it helps our franchisees compete to hire the best talent and begin to develop that talent from day one.

The My Penn Path training aid puts a shared responsibility for development on both the individual employee and the general manager, allowing motivated employees to have more control over their own destiny and helping management more quickly identify which employees really want to move up in the organization and take on more responsibility. With My Penn Path, employees are more empowered to determine their future and have the chance to develop themselves; if an employee wants to be promoted, he or she has the opportunity to obtain the necessary skills.

We identified key personal attributes and key professional competencies for each position in the restaurant. These traits are included in the My Penn Path development aid so employees can see the level of professionalism they need and what material they need to master to be considered for promotion. It includes everything from following dress code guidelines and having a coachable attitude to completing their position training.

Each position builds off the previous position, so the requirements to be a crew leader also include all of the skills and attributes crew members must have. As an employee moves up the ladder, the required attributes get more detailed and bring more value to the business.

Train Employees to Be Ready for Promotion

My Penn Path includes 12 checklist-based training modules. To become an assistant manager, an employee should complete all 12 modules. To become a crew leader, it is recommended that employees complete at least six modules. It’s customizable, though, so employees can choose the modules that teach them the new skills they need to be promoted. Modules cover abilities such as opening or closing the restaurant, managing the cleaning checklists, providing memorable customer service, proper use of the point-of-sale (POS) system, and introduces the skills needed to train others.

The modules are based on the training philosophy of read, watch, perform, follow up. Take the closing procedures module, for example. The training process includes reading from the training manual, doing two or three shift exercises, and then performing two or three shifts of verification. First, the employee studies the required reading for the skill. Then, the employee observes an assistant manager who already knows how to close the restaurant. After observing for a few shifts and reading about the procedures, the employee closes the restaurant under the supervision of the assistant manager and takes a written test to demonstrate he or she has mastered the necessary skills.


In our previous training program, when a general manager needed a new crew leader, he might promote a reliable grill cook to crew leader because of her success at that position and her tenure with the restaurant. By using the My Penn Path training aid, the general manager can review which personal and professional attributes he needs in an effective crew leader and choose the employee who displays those needed attributes and has the requisite training to take on the additional level of responsibility. With the implementation of the My Penn Path aid, general managers start preparing a crew member for promotion in advance so that when the crew leader position opens up, a capable crew member is waiting in the wings. Developing a pipeline of talent makes filling higher-level positions faster, easier, and more successful.

My Penn Path also ensures managers are always considering the career path in interviews. Instead of just hiring a grill cook, general managers focus more on candidates who display the traits they will need to move up to become a crew leader or assistant manager. General managers are hiring with the long-term upside in mind rather than solely hiring based on their present need. We already have seen many employees start at the hourly crew member level and move all the way up to general manager.

Overall, the My Penn Path aid has improved the quality of employees hired and has helped franchisees promote from within more often. This saves franchisees time and money, increasing their return on investment, which is always our main goal at Penn Station.

Lance Vaught is vice president of operations for Penn Station East Coast Subs, a Cincinnati-based fast-casual franchise with more than 300 locations in 15 states. All but one location is franchised, and Penn Station has a better than 99.9 percent success rate, with only two store closings over the last 30 years. For more information, visit

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