LONDON &

Can the hot fat fryer rival the Bunsen burner?




The government is giving McDonald's Corp. &

along with a rail company and an airline &

the power to award the equivalent of advanced high-school qualifications as part of a plan announced today to improve young people's skills.




McDonald's, which has more than 1,000 outlets across Britain, will train employees for a qualification in "basic staff management," giving them the financial and practical skills to run a restaurant.




Network Rail, which owns and operates Britain's railroad infrastructure, will develop courses in track engineering, while low-cost airline Flybe will run courses in areas like aircraft engineering and cabin crew training.




Some business leaders are supportive of the new programs, which mark the first time commercial companies have been allowed to award nationally recognized qualifications based on their own workplace training plans.




Critics, however, complain that the diplomas are not sufficiently academically rigorous.




The courses will be the equivalent of a GCSE, the standard exam taken at the age of 16 years in England and Wales, an Advanced Level, the higher exam taken at 18, or, in Flybe's case, a university level degree.




The new certification raises the prospect that some McDonald's workers could qualify for technical college or university.




"It is right that we recognize and accredit employers that have shown a commitment to training and developing their staff," said skills minister John Denham. "This is an important step toward ending the old divisions between company training schemes and national qualifications, something that will benefit employees, employers and the country as a whole."




David Fairhurst, a McDonald's senior vice president, called it "an important and exciting step."




"We want to ensure that our approach to recruitment, training, and development continues to create real opportunities for social mobility," he said.




McDonald's training will include courses on finance, hygiene and human resources. Network Rail said it hopes that all 33,000 members of its staff will eventually take its courses on safety and management.




John Cridland, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said the new diplomas are "a significant milestone on the road to reforming qualifications so that they better reflect the skills and competencies employers and employees need."




However, the University and College Union said it was concerned that the qualifications are too narrow.




"Just last week, a report revealed that some universities have concerns over diplomas," said Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary. "We are unsure whether those institutions would be clamoring to accept people with McQualifications."




Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the combination of theoretical and practical learning would not necessarily lead to diminished standards. "It is going to be a tough course," he said.




but once you have got a qualification in management you can probably go anywhere," Brown told GMTV.




Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the regulator that approved the three companies, said that applications from other employers would also be considered.