With the national spotlight clearly on jobs and education, Year Up provides a model for helping young people succeed in the workplace and in life. Corporate Voices for Working Families recognized Year Up in 2009 as its “Nonprofit Partner of the Year,” and now the organization has gained well-deserved national attention in a story in The New York Times.

Year Up is a one-year, intensive training program that provides urban young adults, ages 18-24, with a combination of hands-on skill development, college credits, and corporate internships. It offers a six-month training program followed by a six-month internship in a large corporation such as Bank of America, Citi, JP Morgan Chase or AOL, all partner companies of Corporate Voices. Since its founding in Boston in 2000 with a class of 22 students, Year Up has expanded to eight cities and served 4,000 young adults. About 70 percent of its students complete the program and the organization reports that, within four months, 84 percent of graduates are either enrolled full time in college or have secured a job. The average starting wage is $15 per hour – roughly $30,000 per year.

Here’s an excerpt from the story by David Bornstein, “Training Youth in the Ways of the Workplace“:

The most frustrating economic news of 2010 wasn’t that the recession had worsened — it was that things had improved markedly for corporations, but not for the labor force. Even Alan Greenspan expressed concern that the U.S. is evincing “fundamentally two separate types of economy” — one in which big companies and high earners thrive, the other in which millions struggle to find jobs and make ends meet. One group that has been particularly hard hit by the recession is youth. Among workers aged 16 to 24, the unemployment rate is almost 20 percent. For young Latinos, it’s over 24 percent, and for young African Americans, it’s over 32 percent. Some 4.4 million youths are currently unemployed.

This is of serious concern to a country with a rapidly aging population. And while today’s best jobs require post-secondary schooling, 30 percent of U.S. public school students fail to graduate from high school (pdf), and more than half of those who enroll in higher education fail to earn a degree or credential within eight years.

We all know the education system needs fixing; 1.3 million high school dropouts per year is untenable. But youth unemployment gets far less attention  and policy makers have few new ideas to offer. In fact, government investments in workforce development for youth have declined precipitously — from about $1.6 billion in 1994 to about $900 million in 2010, even while gross domestic product doubled during that period (representing a real drop of 70 percent).

Why the cuts? Because for years there has been a lingering perception that workforce development programs don’t work (pdf). That’s why I’m focusing today on an organization called Year Up, which is demonstrating fresh promise in this area.

Year Up, a nonprofit, was founded by Gerald Chertavian, a social entrepreneur who started his career on Wall Street before building a technology firm that he and his partners sold for $83 million. When he was a college freshman, Chertavian began volunteering as a mentor and Big Brother to low-income youths. He did this for decades. He was impressed by the ambition and talents of the young people he got to know. But he saw that they had little scope to “plug in” to the mainstream economy. It wasn’t just that some had attended poor schools or lacked college credentials; they lacked exposures to the “professional culture” — and this, as much as any skill gap, kept them marginalized.

Year Up assists disadvantaged, mostly minority youths, whose only academic requirement is a high school degree or equivalency degree. It offers a six-month training program followed by a six-month internship in a large corporation like State Street, Fidelity Investments, JP Morgan Chase, Partners Healthcare, or AOL. Since its founding in Boston in 2000 with a class of 22 students, Year Up has expanded to eight cities and served 4,000 young adults. About 70 percent of its students complete the program and the organization reports that, within four months, 84 percent of graduates are either enrolled full time in college or have secured a job. The average starting wage is $15 per hour — roughly $30,000 per year.

Year Up offers disadvantaged, mostly minority youths, a six-month development and training program in a classroom followed by a six-month internship with a large corporation.Year Up A student participated in a Year Up business communication course in Boston.

And more from the Bornstein article:

There are several things that Year Up does that distinguishes it from run-of-the-mill job training programs. It involves employers in the design of its programs to make sure its trainings are matched to market demand. It offers students extensive support from counselors and, where necessary, social workers. It forms partnerships with community colleges, which offer course credit for Year Up classes. And at a time when government policies favor short-term trainings, Year Up gives students a full year to make the transition to the professional world. It pays students about $200 a week so they can afford to stick out the year (some still drop out for economic and other reasons). It helps participants find corporate mentors. And it charges employers serious money to receive interns: companies pay Year Up about $875 per week or $22,750 for a six month internship. This ensures that companies will insist on getting employees who can perform. The fees cover about half of Year Up’s operating costs; the rest comes mainly from philanthropy.

But none of the above fully explains Year Up’s success. The real difference is that Year Up takes great care to prepare its students to succeed in a professional culture. “We often talk about hard and soft skills,” says Chertavian. “To me, it’s actually hard and harder skills.” The merely hard skills are things that many training programs cover — for IT, it might be using software applications or installing hardware. The harder skills are more nuanced. They involve questions like: Do you know how to communicate in a team? If you’re running late, do you know to call ahead? If you don’t have enough work, do you know to be proactive and ask for more? Do you know how to write a professional sounding e-mail?

Corporate Voices is proud to partner with Year Up to develop effective new “pathways of opportunity” for out-of-school youth and young adults aged 16 to 24.  Through Corporate Voices “New Options” initiative, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, we plan to develop a cadre of senior business leaders who can serve as champions among their peers and as messengers to policymakers. The ultimate goal of this partnership is to help employers view disconnected youth as a valuable economic asset and source of labor worth investing in-and not a societal liability.