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Year Up raises employment odds for young adults by teaching job-ready skills

June 23, 2014 at 6:28 PM EST
Year Up, a career development program for urban young adults, starts with a six-month crash course in job skills like accounting and the value of self-presentation, followed by a paid internship designed as entree to a secure, well-paying job. Economics correspondent Paul Solman revisits the program to see how trainees have fared during the recession.
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GWEN IFILL: Summer may be here, but teenagers and young adults are still looking for work.

Economics correspondent Paul Solman has a story about one training program designed to help that part of the work force. And it’s finding a good measure of success.

It’s part of his ongoing reporting Making Sense of financial news.

DANIEL ALEXANDRE: If you’re not around the type of people who are supporting you and pushing you to go to school and get a job and — and succeed in that way, then it’s going to be very hard for you to do so.

PAUL SOLMAN: Twenty-three-year-old Daniel Alexandre is the youngest of six. His parents were Boston bus drivers.

DANIEL ALEXANDRE: Resources started to become depleted as I got older. I myself lived in my car for a while. I still love my family. It’s just, if they can’t help me, they can’t help me.

PAUL SOLMAN: Alexandre graduated high school, and then worked odd jobs to get by. Now he’s enrolled at Year Up, a career development program for urban young adults. It starts with a six month-crash course in job skills, like accounting.

WOMAN: So if you put in accounts payable, instead of accounts receivable, what’s going to happen?

PAUL SOLMAN: Double-entry bookkeeping via “Monopoly.”

WOMAN: B&O is available. Do you want a railroad. Why is it credit?

It’s credit because we’re giving it to you, correct.

PAUL SOLMAN: But, crucially, Year Up teaches soft skills too.

MAN: I want for everyone to start singing their song right now.

PAUL SOLMAN: The lesson of accidental dissonance? You will soon discover someone singing the same tune, and you will learn the value of harmony.

Half-a-year’s training is followed by a six-month paid internship, designed as entree to a secure, well-paying job. It’s a quarry so elusive that some six million 18-24 year-old inner-city high school grads are now neither employed nor in school.

MAN: Feedback guidelines. When receiving feedback, be receptive, not defensive.

PAUL SOLMAN: Year Up has taught the very basics ever since we first visited five-plus years ago: eye contact, a firm handshake. But with the crash of ’08, its students faced the toughest job market since the Great Depression. So how did they do?

GERALD CHERTAVIAN, Founder and CEO, Year Up: We placed every student in July of 2009 into an internship, a paid internship.

PAUL SOLMAN: And, says CEO Gerald Chertavian, Year Up itself has doubled in size and is now in 12 cities.

GERALD CHERTAVIAN: The fact that we continued to grow during that period showed me, that if we can connect supply of talented young people with demand for skills, we have a long-term, positive business proposition, and a program that serves the needs of our primary stakeholder, our student.

PAUL SOLMAN: And serves employers, who complain, at least when we interview them, about sluggish, feckless, unready job aspirants.

GERALD CHERTAVIAN: We’re helping young adults develop those skills, and even beat college grads on that very measure of, are they professional?

PAUL SOLMAN: After high school, 21-year-old Shaquilla Boyce couldn’t afford college, couldn’t find work.

SHAQUILLA BOYCE: I applied to jobs in an office setting, and I don’t have any experience. So then it’s, OK, you know, I can apply to retail stores or things like that, because that’s what will take me. And then it’s kind of a dead end, because it’s — the job is not paying you enough to go to school, and then you need to work more, so you can’t go to school. So it’s kind of a — there’s no way out.

PAUL SOLMAN: Boyce thinks Year Up is her way up and out. She’s now an information technology intern at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, a pipe dream without the program, says Daniel Alexandre.

DANIEL ALEXANDRE: Well, one of the things that they stress is that they only spend 10 to 15 seconds looking over each individual resume.

PAUL SOLMAN: You mean an employer?

DANIEL ALEXANDRE: An employer will, right. You see a name, as an employer, Shaquilla from Dorchester, who doesn’t have a college degree. That just chopped down my 15 seconds of scanning this interview to zero, you know.

I’m going to pass it over, because society has told me that people with that kind of name from that type of background, they’re not going to do much. They’re probably going to come late to work. There’s just a whole mountain of perceptions that we have to jump over to even be considered in some of these work spaces.

PAUL SOLMAN: The name Shaquilla is a real handicap?

SHAQUILLA BOYCE: When I applied to jobs, my middle name is Shannon. I would put Shannon, instead of Shaquilla, and I got more callbacks than before.

PAUL SOLMAN: For Daniel Alexandre, a key takeaway from training so far is the value of knowing your audience when it comes to self-presentation.

DANIEL ALEXANDRE: My friends don’t think that way at all. They don’t understand the importance of matching the person across from you, their body language, or understanding the importance of being intentional in everything that you say and do, so that that person walks away believing what you want them to believe about you, as opposed to what they might already be feeling about you once you walked into the room.

PAUL SOLMAN: They don’t have the mind-set of putting themselves in the other person’s shoes?

DANIEL ALEXANDRE: No, not at all. Their thought most of the time is, I need a job, I need to eat. Can you help me? This is who I am. Can you help me?

PAUL SOLMAN: Many also don’t have the mind-set of due diligence when faced with tough tasks in school. So the stipend Year Up pays during training is docked if you’re late to class or don’t do homework.

MAN: I’m going to ask you to write down a couple of actions you’re going to take to make sure your performance is strong. And we will review these next time you sit down in a week.

PAUL SOLMAN: And the staff never rests.

SHAQUILLA BOYCE: My adviser checks on me more than some of my friends do. It’s just, how are you? Do you need anything? Do you need to talk? What’s different? What’s going on?

PAUL SOLMAN: All this effort, at a cost of $26,000 per student per year at sites like this, to help close the so-called skills gap between nearly 10 million unemployed Americans and the more than a million jobs employers say they can’t fill.

Stephanie Pinto completed Year Up last year.

STEPHANIE PINTO: There’s these employers seeking talented people. Then there’s the young adults who want that job, but how do they get it? And that’s where I see Year Up as an amazing, like, glue stick, you know?

We’re gluing those people to those jobs. Like, we’re giving them that training, the skills that they need to get there.

PAUL SOLMAN: But the skills in the skills gap don’t seem that hard to tap. After her internship at State Street Financial, Pinto was hired permanently as a pricing specialist. Why?

STEPHANIE PINTO: I’m a good talker.

(LAUGHTER)

STEPHANIE PINTO: So, I mean, I have always been criticized for talking in school.

During elementary, you had, don’t talk, don’t talk. So I’m like, wow, I’m — I talk too much. But Year Up was no, no, no, use that as a strength. Like, you have to really sell yourself. And you have that ability to speak to people. And some people don’t have those skills.

PAUL SOLMAN: So if Pinto already had the ability to rise, are Year Up’s students simply different?

Is Year Up cherry-picking, in the sense that you’re picking the people who are most likely to succeed anyway?

GERALD CHERTAVIAN: We’re categorically not cherry-picking, and have proved that via randomized control trial.

So, we worked with young people. Some went through Year Up. Some, we just followed, right? All were admitted, and the reality was the ones who went through Year Up had some of the highest increase in wages of any youth development program that we have seen in the last 20 years.

PAUL SOLMAN: Eighty-five percent of Year Up’s graduates are now enrolled in college and/or employed, earning, on average, $30,000 a year. Of course, the program can’t help everyone who enrolls. About a quarter of each class drops out.

GERALD CHERTAVIAN: If someone says, I do not want to put in the effort, I don’t want to show up on time every day, I don’t want to work hard, then you wouldn’t be able to be successful in this program.

PAUL SOLMAN: And after nearly 14 years in business, Year Up has managed to serve only 9,400 students, 0.2 percent of its target population. But Chertavian and the students claim that nearly all inner-city young adults would be successful with just one year of intensive grooming.