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Year Up: A Non-Profit that Can Teach Business and Education a Thing or Two

Year Up offers urban young adults a chance at a better life. It also offers a model of training that educators, managers and HR professionals should pay attention to.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the birthplace of Year Up. Like many successful startups, the original space in Boston's financial district is funky, distinctive and graced with personal touches. Creaky wood floors are warmed by oriental rugs; high ceilings with exposed pipes provide architectural interest; colorful handprints of the members of the first graduating class claim the wall of the common area, where visitors and students can relax on oversize leather sofas and chairs.

While Year Up's leaders are fond of their original space, locations in Atlanta, Providence, New York, San Francisco and Washington (with Chicago and Seattle soon to follow) have assumed more corporate settings. This is meant to help the students acclimate to a typical work environment from the start.

This focus on business sets Year Up apart. It combines a powerful vision (“In the future, every urban young adult will have access to the education, experiences and guidance required to realize his or her true potential") with the application of sound management principles to help students succeed and to provide businesses with a reliable source of well-trained, well-rounded entry-level employees.

The program provides students with marketable job skills (currently in IT help desk, desktop support and investment operations); stipends so they can focus on their studies; six months of business experience through internships with corporate partners, and 18 college credits.

The program includes training in business etiquette and communication. “It's one thing to train in the technology skills," says Mary Finlay, deputy CIO at Partners Healthcare in Boston, one of the original corporate partners of Year Up. “There are a number of worthy programs out there that do that.... But Year Up also covers the basics of how to show up on time, how to act [and dress] appropriately and how to deal with difficult situations." As a result, students are “ready and able" to be productive when they show up for their internships, Finlay says.

Year Up inculcates a set of Values and Guiding Principles as part of its “high support, high expectation model." This includes how to give and receive feedback in a positive way.

Another thing that distinguishes Year Up from other programs is that it provides ongoing support once interns are placed. Every intern is assigned an advisor, with whom they meet once a week to receive coaching and talk through new experiences and problems. They also are assigned an outside mentor with whom they speak at least once a month.

Supervisors at partner companies go through an orientation and have access to Year Up staff whenever they want it. First-time managers benefit from the indirect coaching they get from Year Up staff – themselves an impressive lot, with backgrounds in business and non-profit management, academia and international development.

All of this is designed to make sure students are successful or, in the one in 10 instances where things don't work out, to gracefully move that person out and replace them with another intern, with as little disruption to the company as possible.

There are additional benefits for corporate partners. For example, companies like Partners that care about diversity see Year Up as a valuable part of their sourcing strategy. And managers get a lot out of it too. “My managers love the opportunity to be able to take in an intern, provide mentoring and coaching, and give these young men and women their first break in their careers," says Finlay. “They see it as one of their benefits."

Founded by businessman Gerald Chertavian 10 years ago, Year Up has been honored by Fast Company and The Monitor Group with its Social Capitalists Award for world-changing non-profits. President Obama visited the Washington site in June and praised it in his press conference that week.

In its first year, Year Up graduated 22 students. This year the Boston chapter alone turned out almost 300, with over 1,500 students going through the program nationally. But that's not even close to the most interesting stat. Get this:

  • 83% student retention
  • 100% placement of qualified students into internships
  • 90% of interns meet or exceed partner expectations
  • 87% of graduates placed in full or part-time positions
  • $15/hr average wage at placement

This is all the more impressive considering that national retention rates for students at two-year public colleges is only 54 percent – not apples to apples, but it gives you an idea.

Partners Healthcare takes 8 to 10 interns from each class, and hires a number of graduates every year. Finlay is explicit that this is not just altruism. “Right now it might not be so hard to get talent, but the pendulum is going to swing back." She recommends the program to other CIOs, saying, “develop the partnership now, get used to working with Year Up and make it part of your sourcing strategy so you're already engaged and not scrambling to get things in place" when the economy picks back up.

Year Up currently operates in Boston, Atlanta, Providence, New York, San Francisco (Bay area) and Washington and expects to open chapters in Chicago and Seattle next. CIOs interested in learning more about becoming a corporate partner should contact the local chapter. Individuals can get involved by serving as guest speakers, job coaches, college application advisors, mentors, curriculum coaches or instructors, or by making a donation.

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Comments

  1. Very good reminder of the impact of simple lessons that go far:
    1. Show up on time,
    2. Say please and thank (notes, emails and face to face)
    3. Do what you say you are going to do.

    Nice overview Abbey – thank you

  2. Thanks, Laura. The basics are eternal and go a long way!

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