Photo: The Human Resources Manager for Arcos Dorados in Argentina, Sergio Pivetti. Credit: Courtesy of the interviewee.

By Jose Manuel Blanco

Sergio Pivetti began his career at Arcos Dorados 30 years ago, when he started work at one of the McDonald's franchisor's Latin American locations while he was a university student. Today, he is the company's Human Resources manager in Argentina. In 2021, Arcos Dorados will celebrate 35 years in the South American country, in which time it has accumulated 220 locations and 15,000 workers, 80% of whom are under 25 years old: many start working in these hamburger restaurants when they finish high school or start university to pay for their studies.

Pivetti, who says he “proudly” carries the responsibility of heading up human resources for Arcos Dorados in Argentina, reviews the use of technology in his department of the fast food company, which saw the pandemic speed up its plans to adopt teleworking.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the technologies that is revolutionising the economy. How does Arcos Dorados use AI for attracting, recruiting and managing talent?

During the recruitment process we work with two very different technologies. We use the Tu VideoCV!application, which allows the person to record themselves and present what they are like by answering some questions we ask them. We are looking for them to be outgoing, fun, eager to work… Once they are hired [at Arcos Dorados], we work with another company on a questionnaire that allows us to predict certain behaviours, such as their customer service skills.

In addition, we are incorporating big data and analytics technology to map our employees' profiles and create career and transition plans, as well as to build on their competencies, strengths and opportunities.

On the other hand, in a normal year, we hire 300 employees per month: because they are students, they change careers, they get new jobs, and with that, new opportunities are continuously being generated… That process, until recently, was over the phone. So, to recruit 300 employees, we had to call 1000 people in for interviews. It was a very long process of phone calling, losing candidates… [Now], arranging interviews through chatbots and AI helps us, firstly, to save man-hours in that process and, secondly, not to lose candidates.

The large-scale implementation of teleworking as a result of the pandemic has been one of the biggest changes to the corporate sphere. Do you think it is here to stay? What measures have Arcos Dorados taken to ensure that remote working is beneficial for both the business and the employees?

Up until now, there had been some resistance to change, with few companies doing it. That was until this situation came along and forced us all to change. Today it is not even under discussion, and one imagines that it would be impossible to go backwards. Companies' plans [to implement telework] in two or three years took only six months. But now, I would go as far as to say that we are more productive, with very fluid communication.

However, we have a big challenge, which is to achieve a balance between personal life and work: it has generated a lot of productivity, but it has also shifted the balance between personal life and work, and this needs to be addressed. The great challenge for professionals in Human Resources is to balance teleworking, to use it correctly, so that there is a balance between the benefit for the company and the benefit for the employee.

I think that new rules need to be written. We were used to an employee working from nine to six, with a lunch break and a certain level of performance. Teleworking came along and has changed all of that. We have to rewrite history, to look for a way that, without losing flexibility (which is the interesting thing that teleworking has provided), there are optimal conditions for people to feel good and have that balance between personal life and work.

It is precisely because of the pandemic and teleworking that caring for the physical and psychological well-being of employees has become a priority. What are the strategies that Arcos Dorados uses to protect the physical and mental health of its employees?

Coincidentally, at Arcos Dorados we had already started working on this before the pandemic, we felt there was a need for a health and wellness programme. We had started work in 2018, without knowing that coronavirus was coming, because we believed that a high-impact project was necessary to foster good habits. The programme has three main focuses: preventative health, physical activity and communication of healthy habits and good practices. One of the things that surprised me and made me most proud was that the programme was very well received by the people: they valued the programme as one of the most beneficial for the company in a long time. When the pandemic hit, we ramped it up, because we quickly realised how difficult it was for people to sustain activities that were important for their wellbeing, such as going to the doctor, going to the gym, even knowing what to cook every day. Faced with this scenario, we began offering talks and virtual appointments with doctors; we increased physical activity with gyms and online teachers, and we continued with a cycle of talks to address not only physical health but also mental health.

We also held recreational events that helped people feel united in one company and supported. For example, talks by chefs who taught people about eating habits during the pandemic. All of this got people talking not just about work, but also about how to have moments of recreation when they are confined to their homes. We also made psychological help available to them.

The impact was wonderful. People felt that the company was supporting the team at this difficult time.

You have recently published your sixth Social Impact and Sustainable Development report. In it, you mention the Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship programme, which has helped to develop entrepreneurial skills in 1,500 young people. What other employability initiatives have you developed recently?

We are mostly working with different foundations, such as Junior Achievement, which promotes entrepreneurship in secondary schools. We are partnering in order to support them, share our knowledge with them, and work together with them on a mentoring programme to help young people. We have also partnered up with foundations that promote first jobs; these associations target socially vulnerable people and work in the neighbourhoods in which people have fewer opportunities.

We are a company which employs 15,000 people, mostly young people. We know that unemployment is one of the pandemics that young people face, and how difficult it is for a young student to find a job that allows them to continue to work and study. We are therefore working on everything that impacts on youth employment.

Within the company we run a programme called Employment with Support, which has been in operation in Argentina for almost 30 years. This programme employs more than 120 people with disabilities, the majority of whom are with intellectual disabilities. In the last few years, we have succeeded in helping eight of these people retire, eight people with an intellectual disability who have worked for a lifetime and managed to retire. We are proud of this, because a person with a disability has less opportunities for employment.

In December 2019, we opened a store in Barrio 31, a vulnerable neighbourhood in the City of Buenos Aires. It is the first McDonald's location in the world to open in an emerging neighbourhood of a city. We set out to hire 100% of the employees from there. Even the manager of the store is from the neighbourhood. I think it was an example of how a company can establish itself in a community, help and support it.

Sustainability is of great importance to Arcos Dorados' day-to-day operations. What strategies do you implement in the Human Resources department in particular and in the company in general to comply with the Sustainable Development Goals?

The strategy forms part of what we call Recipe for the Future. We are working on three fundamental areas: opportunities for young people, sustainable development and engagement with families. For each of the three areas, we have made internal and external commitments.

In terms of the social aspect, we are the largest employer of young people in Latin America and we focus on providing training opportunities for young people so that they are better prepared to enter the world of work.

In the sustainable development aspect, we are working to reduce the amount of waste we generate and to raise awareness among our customers about proper waste separation. For more than two years, we have been working to eliminate some of the single-use plastic items such as straws, lids for cold drinks, salad bowls, and so on. We also have various circular economy projects, such as the Natal Project, which reuses water from air conditioners to clean car parks or water plants, among other things.

What will be the main challenges and responsibilities facing HR managers in the new normal?

We have the challenge of finding the balance between work and personal life, as I mentioned at the beginning. Another challenge is to maintain the culture established on-site in our company at home: constant communication within the team, working together towards the same goal… And, above all, I think the biggest challenge is to remain close to the teams, to the people. People still need access to training, motivation and communication.

What advice would you give to your counterparts in other companies?

To work with the aim of preserving the working culture of each organisation, to work closely with employees so that they feel the company is approachable and accessible, and so that they don't feel like isolated individuals: with teleworking, sometimes you feel alone.

What do you predict the job market will be like in the next few years?

It is becoming clear that technical knowledge is important, but it is not the only important thing. A professional must have a lot of knowledge or soft skills that are as or more important than technical skills. I think this situation has shown us the importance of managing soft skills: the ability to communicate, to be able to negotiate, to adapt to change, resilience…

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