Domestic policy was front and center during the first State of the Union Address of President Obama’s second term. The captitolPresident spent most of his speech calling for tax and entitlement reform, spending on education and energy, gun control and immigration reform. One item of particular importance to Corporate Voices and its partner companies was the President’s call for linking education with the demands of an evolving skills-based workforce.

He highlighted the need for America to redesign its high schools to improve the link between education and the skills employers are looking for. After noting that German students graduate from high  school with the equivalent of a technical degree from a U.S. community college, the President praised the work CorporatIBMe Voices’ partner company IBM is doing through its Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH). P-TECH is a grade 9 through 14 school that produces students with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in technology.  The curriculum was developed in close collaboration with the New York public schools, the City University of New York and IBM, to provide students with the skills required for entry-level positions at IBM.

Calling on others to follow suit, President Obama promised the Department of Education will create incentives for schools that form new partnerships with colleges or employers, or develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes geared toward high-tech jobs. Corporate Voices is already highlighting many of these partnerships and success stories through its Learn and Earn initiative and its work with Year Up in the New Options Project.

The 113th Congress will soon begin to sort through issues such as reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Corporate Voices is well positioned to offer the business case on why partnerships such as P-TECH succeed and are necessary for helping to ensure our nation’s young adults are prepared with the skills needed in the 21st-century workforce. In collaboration with Year Up, Corporate Voices has already distributed a list of its policy priorities for the 113th Congress.

If you are a Corporate Voices member company and want to lend your voice to shaping education and workforce policy by joining the Corporate Voices Public Policy Task Force, please contact Nathan Constable (nconstable@corporatevoices.org). We hope to hold the first policy call in March following the 2013 Annual Partners Meeting.

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.

 

At our Corporate Voices for Working Families annual meeting we honored Year Up as our Nonprofit Partner of the Year, recognizing that organization for being the premiere alternative pathway program that successfully prepares low income young adults for professional careers.

Today, with the national spotlight on mentors and parents, President Barack Obama visited the Year Up offices in Washington, visiting with staff members and talking to students. Here’s the story from Year Up:

President Barack Obama visited with students at Year Up today to celebrate responsible fathers and the contributions they make to our country.  A model of social innovation, Year Up is a one year program that serves low-income men and women, ages 18 to 24, using a pioneering approach that provides professional and technical skills training, college credits, mentoring, social support and an apprenticeship with a corporate partner.  With a national network of 6 sites in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Providence, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Year Up is meeting its mission to close the opportunity divide.

The President talked with students about the challenges facing young adults today, and how critical Year Up has been for them as they strive to effectively find a pathway to a livable wage career and post secondary education, while still being able to take responsibility for their families.

“The President really seems to understand the things that young fathers have to do to take care of their children and he wants us to have the opportunities to provide for our families,” said Juan Carlos Artero, a Year Up alumnus and current staff member, who will speak at the White House later this afternoon.

Several students guided the President on a tour of Year Up’s Washington, D.C., site. They demonstrated their skills in business communications and their proficiency in computer hardware assembly.  The students were then joined by several of Year Up’s corporate and philanthropic partners including Bank of America, Carlyle Group, Freddie Mac, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Perot Systems, State Street Bank and Venture Philanthropy Partners.

Year Up works as an alternative pathway for youth integrating workforce training, post-secondary education and work experience that meets the needs of low-income young adults and also helps employers by providing them with skilled entry-level talent.

“At Year Up we believe that with high expectations and high support every young adult can reach their potential and get onto a viable path to economic self-sufficiency.  We are greatly honored that the President visited with our students today and we look forward to working with the Administration to scale this successful model and bridge the needs of employers and young adults,” said Gerald Chertavian, Year Up’s Founder and CEO.

And with the President came substantial national news coverage, including this Associated Press story: “Obama tells men to be there for kids.” Here’s from the story:

President Barack Obama, who barely knew his own father, had personal advice Friday for young men who become dads: “Even if your father was not there, you can be there for your child.”
Two days before Father’s Day, Obama was spending the afternoon promoting the importance of mentors and engaged parents.
He spoke at Year Up, a nonprofit program that trains 18-to-24-year-olds from urban backgrounds for college or professional work. The students get training for high-tech professions but also learn personal skills, like how to communicate well and solve conflicts, to help them succeed in life.
At the site in Arlington, Va., just outside of Washington, Obama told roughly 50 young men and women that it is the role of their communities to help provide them with support and direction. He said he knows they are headed into a tough job market but can succeed if they are persistent.
Obama took a brief tour of the center before speaking. At one point he got a lesson on the components of a computer from two of the students. Surveying a table full of parts, Obama said: “It’s about time I figure out what’s going on.”
He implored the men in the group to be present for their own children.

President Barack Obama, who barely knew his own father, had personal advice Friday for young men who become dads: “Even if your father was not there, you can be there for your child.”

Two days before Father’s Day, Obama was spending the afternoon promoting the importance of mentors and engaged parents.

He spoke at Year Up, a nonprofit program that trains 18-to-24-year-olds from urban backgrounds for college or professional work. The students get training for high-tech professions but also learn personal skills, like how to communicate well and solve conflicts, to help them succeed in life.

At the site in Arlington, Va., just outside of Washington, Obama told roughly 50 young men and women that it is the role of their communities to help provide them with support and direction. He said he knows they are headed into a tough job market but can succeed if they are persistent.

Obama took a brief tour of the center before speaking. At one point he got a lesson on the components of a computer from two of the students. Surveying a table full of parts, Obama said: “It’s about time I figure out what’s going on.”

He implored the men in the group to be present for their own children.

Allison Tomei, communications and government relations coordinator for Corporate Voices, helped to coordinate the communications and media relations for the President’s visit.