Case study

Mark O'Reilly - winner of 2013 Opening Doors Award

Mark O'Reilly won the Opening Doors Award for Inspirational Young Person.

Mark O'Reilly picking up his award

Mark O’Reilly, 25, started his career in retail working in a shopping centre in Doncaster. But when he was made redundant, despite applying for dozens of jobs every week, Mark found himself out of work for 9 months.

Mark comes from an area of high unemployment in Sheffield. Determined not to rely on state benefits, he signed up for the Service Academy at the local job centre and landed 2 weeks’ work experience with McDonald’s in Sheffield.

Reflecting on his period on the dole, Mark says:

I kept myself in the house all the time. The only time I went out was to go and sign on. I felt low and miserable and I didn’t want to burden my family with my problems.

It’s why the Service Academy proved a turning point:

It got me interacting with more people. I’d done something similar in the past but never with work experience which was totally different. I brightened up and straight after my first shift, I visited my family to tell them how much I enjoyed it and they could see that I’d changed for the better.

After completing work experience, Mark was offered a full-time position in July 2011. Shortly after, he enrolled on the apprenticeship programme and gained an Intermediate Apprenticeship qualification in Hospitality and Catering. Whistling through his apprenticeship in just 3 months in May 2012, it enabled Mark to gain his Level 2 in Adult Literacy and Numeracy – something he failed to achieve at school.

Asked what would surprise people to learn about McDonalds training, Mark says:

It’s the best training I’ve ever received, very thorough, detailed and well thought out.

Gaining qualifications gave Mark the confidence to push for promotion. He completed the Staff Trainer Programme within 12 months and was soon training colleagues in the restaurant. Mark didn’t stop there and has since qualified as a shift manager responsible for up to 20 staff.

Mark now revisits the Service Academy to talk about his experiences and encourage other unemployed youngsters. He’s a real advocate for his training:

It’s very important to go back because if it wasn’t for the Service Academy I wouldn’t be where I am.

Those people were in the same boat as me and to think that 2 and a half years ago, I was jobless – now I’m a shift manager at one of the biggest restaurant chains in the UK!

Mark was keen to be involved with a recruitment video for McDonald’s where he relays his experiences to fellow employees. He draws on his struggles getting into work and the opportunities McDonald’s presented, enabling him to achieve his career aspirations and gain further promotions.

Last spring, Mark was an Employee of the Year 2012 finalist. Describing his pinch-me moment, he says:

I was honoured to make the top 4, let alone win. It didn’t sink in until the day I came down to London for the finals when I won. I brought my trophy into work and it put a smile on my face for weeks.

More than anything, his win recognised Mark’s journey and what can be achieved when you put your mind to it. Mark gained further recognition for his dedication when he won a Medal for Excellence from City & Guilds.

Next, Mark’s goal is to become a restaurant manager. McDonald’s has given him the tools, encouragement, and opportunity to succeed – the rest has been down to Mark’s determination, hard work and upbeat attitude.

His message for other youngsters in the same boat:

Stick at it. Because there’s something better around the corner if you look for it. Look into everything and you’ll reap rewards. A positive attitude is your most important quality. If you’ve got that and it leads to qualifications or training, you can get anywhere.

Published 7 November 2013