A Year Up: Building an Inclusive Economy
Gerald Chertavian meets with one of Boston’s Year Up participants. (Photo Courtesy of subject)
Gerald Chertavian started YearUp to give young people from disadvantaged backgrounds better access to the professional world. The organization has grown exponentially since 2000, working with 4,000 urban youth across America. Chertavian recently released a new book that catalogues the work of this non-profit.
How is Year Up different from other job training/youth development programs?
Our strong emphasis on preparing students for knowledge-based careers in growing industries. Our program is a year-long (hence the name Year Up) and begins with 6 months of learning and development.
We focus heavily on what we call the “A, B, C’s” – attitudinal, behavioral and communication skills –or “soft skills” that you would need to get a professional job at a great company. We also ensure that students learn marketable “hard” skills, such as technical or financial skills that are currently in demand among top employers. For the second 6 months of the program, our students are placed at an internship with one of our corporate partners. We work with over 250 companies, mostly Fortune 1000 companies, across the country.
After the full year, our students now have the experience, the skills, and the belief that they can work at an organization like Bank of America, State Street, Google, and Facebook. And we’ve found that 85% of our graduates earn, on average, $15 an hour—the equivalent of $30k per year. A young person has basically gone from poverty to a professional career in one year.
Where does it operate in the US and what cities have you not infiltrated that you would like to do so?
Year Up operates in 9 cities across the country: Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, National Capitol Region, San Francisco Bay Area, and Seattle.
Over the next 5 years, we will establish sites in three new regions, starting with Silicon Valley in 2013. We consider many factors when determining which markets to expand to, including the need (number of potential students), the level of employer demand, the quality of the public transportation system and the size of the philanthropic community.
We’re also looking at ways to adapt our program so we can reach a greater number of students. For example, we are piloting a program called the Professional Training Corps (PTC).
Modeled after the ROTC, the PTC resides within a community college. Instead of military maneuvers, our students learn about computer operating systems and professional skills. And we’ve replaced field training exercises with internships at Fortune 1000 companies. We’ve been piloting components of the program in Baltimore and will launch the PTC in Miami this year through a partnership with Miami Dade Community College.
Why did you decide to partner with these large companies primarily? Would it be possible to have a tangential program that enables young people to get in internships in the nonprofit sector/ development/ etc. given the recent interest in jobs with social impact?
Year Up currently prepares our students for careers in Information Technology, Financial Operations and Quality Assurance. We partner with companies who have a need for those types of skills, versus companies of a specific size. Because all of these industries are growing and in high demand, we are able to work with companies from many different sectors, from education and professional service, to healthcare and biotech, to media and technology, and financial services. And we actually do have some partners that are nonprofits.
Our partners invest resources in Year Up to work with our interns, and that’s because they know it’s a smart business strategy. This also means that we tend to partner with larger for-profit companies, who have the financial resources, the business needs and the management infrastructure that makes Year Up a good investment.
Why would a company pay to have these interns? What is their interest?
We live in a country today where about 14 million people don’t have a job, yet there are 3 million open job vacancies. There’s a mismatch between the individuals who need a job and the companies who need skilled workers. Year Up is a market-maker: it helps connect the demand for talent with the supply of skilled workers. Many companies initially decide to work with us as way to give back to their communities and serve as good corporate citizens, which is great. However, it’s not long before our partners are calling us to share how impressed they are with our interns. Our partners quickly realize that Year Up offers a tangible value proposition: the ability to access a reliable source of future talent that helps fill their need for skilled, diverse, entry-level workers. And that’s why they’re willing to invest resources to work with our interns. At the end of the day, it makes good business sense to do so.
What does this book offer? Is it anecdotes or advice to young Millennials?
A Year Up, is ultimately a story about human transformation, the first of which was my own when I began to understand what is life like for millions of Americans who are born on the wrong side of the Opportunity Divide. Many of us believe that if you work hard and play by the rules you can be successful, but in reality there is a serious inequality of opportunity in this country that keeps many talented Americans on the sidelines.
This fundamentally threatens our ability to have a thriving economy and remain competitive on the global stage. There are 6.7 million “Opportunity Youth,” young adults who are out of school, out of work, and don’t have more than a high school degree. You can’t have an effective workforce when 1 in 5 young people can’t get their foot in the door. And that’s what you see in the book, that these young people can achieve incredible success if they’re given a fair shot.
A Year Up, in many ways, offers a chance to hear the voices of our students. In fact, more than half of the book consists of stories about our young people and their own transformations throughout their year in the program. And in sharing our students’ stories, I wanted to show our young adults for who they are. They are assets, not liabilities. And not only that, they’re critical components of the US economic engine.
Can you speak a bit about the impact that Year Up has had in some communities – any concrete data/ anecdotes that you can refer to about its impact in a particular city/ community?
Just last year a group of Year Up alumni in Boston saw an opportunity to benefit their community by becoming mentors for younger children. They took the lead to create MentorCorps, a partnership with the Big Brothers Big Sisters association that fosters mentoring relationships between Year Up alumni and young men and women in need of positive role models in their lives. MentorCorps launched last fall with 10-12 YU alums serving as “bigs” to “littles” matched by BBBS.
This such a poignant example of how our alumni are not only economic assets, but also community leaders who contribute an enormous amount to our society and to the generation that will follow in their footsteps.
You’ve reached a national scale, what do you want to do going forward with the organization?
The unfortunate reality is there are millions of young adults and communities throughout the US that need an opportunity like Year Up. It’s something I think about every day—that for every additional student enrolled in our program, there are thousands of others who are not. And I believe we have a responsibility to leverage our program’s success to target broader systems change. Our mission is bigger than us, than one organization, and we want to ensure that every young adult can have access to a “year up” experience, even if it’s not directly through us.
So we will continue to expand Year Up’s core direct service program so we can serve more students. We will also design and pilot alternative models, like the Professional Training Corp, that could potentially scale to serve 100,000 young adults per year. And we will use what we know about creating career pathways for young adults to eliminate the systemic causes of the Opportunity Divide.
That strategy is focused on influencing what we refer to as the 3Ps: perceptions about urban young adults (who are economic assets, not social liabilities), business practices (around talent pipeline sourcing and hiring), and public policies (related to workforce, education, and tax policies that shape America’s talent pool).