For Amber Mitchell Ikpe, learning computer software skills was just one part of the experience at Year Up, a nonprofit job training program.
The course, followed by a six-month internship with a company, included classes on public speaking, teamwork, professional behavior and attitude. There was a closet with men’s and women’s business clothes, and an ironing board.
Year Up also organized help with basic needs, including subsidized childcare, health insurance, and food assistance. When her car broke down, she got a grant to fix it.
“Without all of that, I would never have finished,” Ms. Ikpe recalled.
After graduating from Year Up, Ms. Ikpe landed a job in technology paying nearly six figures. Five years later, she owns a house in suburban Atlanta and considers herself upper-middle class. She now works for an education and networking nonprofit for black tech managers.
the year up The program is one of a relative handful of nonprofits that have established a track record of putting low-income Americans into jobs that can be stepping stones to the middle class.
They share a holistic approach to workforce development. They foster close relationships with employers. They offer in-demand job skills training and “soft skills” training, such as communication and teamwork. And they provide or organize help with the challenges of daily life, like child care and transportation.
But as they grow, these programs are small. Even the largest ones, like Year Up, reach only a few thousand students a year.
The Biden administration is trying to push often-ineffective local and regional training programs to adopt the holistic model of successful nonprofits. The administration has allocated $500 million in grants for its Good Jobs Challengea portion of the American Rescue Plan of pandemic relief spending.
The 32 grant winners were announced in August, with the money going to communities in 31 states and Puerto Rico for workforce development programs. The goal of the government’s job challenge competition over the next several years is to create more than 50,000 good-paying jobs, which is more than the prevailing wage for an occupation in a region, with benefits. Creating opportunities for disadvantaged workers is a priority.
The job challenge competition required local applicants to offer training, services and engagement with employers, the ingredients seen in programs like Year Up. It did not seek a grant, but can work with local and regional grantees.
“We know what works, but making it work at scale is very difficult,” said Todd Fisher, who oversees American Rescue Plan programs at the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration. “We are trying to encourage and replicate more of these comprehensive work-and-learn models.”
The US government spends less on job training and worker support as part of economic activity than most other developed countries. And private companies have traditionally viewed spending on training as an obligation that goes far beyond their main lucrative function.
But there are signs of change at American businesses that, if they expand, could open the door to opportunities for many more low-income workers, according to workforce experts.
Corporations are starting to change their hiring behavior, fueled by a tight job market and pressure to diversify their workforces. More companies, experts say, are expanding their recruiting efforts, adding apprenticeships and other on-the-job training programs.
Eliminating the requirement for a four-year college degree is a critical step. Recent research shows that companies are gradually cutting back on the degree prerequisite in job postings.
The four-year grade filter is a stiff barrier to advancement for many workers. Nearly two-thirds of American adults they don’t have four-year degrees. Selection for college degrees particularly affects minorities, eliminating 76 percent of black adults and 83 percent of Latino adults from the job market.
In recent years, organizations such as Opportunity@Job and the Markle Foundation they have pushed the concept that skills rather than degrees should be the basis for hiring and career advancement in most occupations.
A 2020 study by researchers from Opportunity@Work, Harvard University, Cornell University, and professional services firm Accenture looked at skills across different occupations and found that as many as 30 million workers had the skills to realistically change to new jobs that paid an average of 70 percent more. than your current ones.
That study coined an acronym for those without college degrees but with valuable work experience: STAR, which stands for “experts through alternate routes.”
Last month, the Ad Council began a public service advertising campaign featuring successful STAR workers and calling for the bachelor’s degree requirement the “paper ceiling”.
The marketing campaign, which is expected to last two years, is carried out in cooperation with Opportunity@Work. The campaign has financial and marketing support from corporations including Accenture, Chevron, Google, IBM, LinkedIn, Walmart and Workday, all of which are simplifying college degree requirements for hiring.
Belief change comes before behavior change, said Gerald Chertavian, CEO of Year Up, which he founded more than two decades ago. And Mr. Chertavian is encouraged by the recent change in hiring practices at some corporations.
This year, about 4,000 students will enter Year Up programs at locations across the country.
Year Up students are between 18 and 29 years old. To be accepted, they must have a high school diploma or its equivalent. The program is designed to help low-income youth. Three quarters of the students are Black or Latino.
Course tracks include software development and data analysis, but also general business skills such as project management and sales support. Since the pandemic, classes are a hybrid mix of face-to-face and online.
Over the years, soft skills, tutoring, coaching and support services have overlapped to help students stick with the program and navigate corporate life.
Students pay no tuition and receive a small stipend during the course and a larger stipend during their six-month internship with employers. The graduation rate is 70 percent and the average starting salary for graduates is $48,000, a median salary.
The income gains are long-lasting, according to a federally funded long-term program evaluation. In updated findings published in Maythe researchers found that after six years, Year Up students, including those who did not graduate, earned 30 percent more than a comparable group of youth who did not experience the program.
Recently, a growth driver for Year Up has been forging deeper relationships with corporations that are home to large numbers of program interns. The appeal is mostly for self-interest: studies show that companies pay up to 30 percent more for college graduates than for those without four-year degrees but with equivalent skills and work experience, and turnover is higher for graduates. college students
Corporate diversity goals are also an incentive. Mr. Chertavian argues that workforce diversity will increasingly become a competitive consideration, similar to the environment and climate change, an issue that concerns employees, customers and investors.
“Some major corporations are realizing that this is not a good thing but a really valuable thing,” he said. “It’s becoming part of their talent acquisition strategies.”
Four companies are hosting more than 100 Year Up students as interns this year, and the nonprofit expects the number of companies to more than double next year, suggesting the current economic uncertainty has yet to affect diversity hiring plans.
Typically, about half of interns are hired by their host companies, and most of the rest can get jobs elsewhere. Eighty percent of Year Up students are employed or enrolled in post-secondary education within four months of graduation.
JPMorgan Chase attracts more than 300 Year Up students for internships annually. Students in the program tend to have a high drive to succeed because they have different life experiences than most bank employees, said Daniel Clarke, vice president of emerging talent at JPMorgan Chase. “They come from situations that are difficult and they worked hard,” he said.
One of her colleagues, Aaliyah Morgan, manager of the emerging talent program, dropped out of high school and spent periods of homelessness. But she persevered, earning her high school degree and finding her way to a Year Up program in 2016, which led to an internship at JPMorgan Chase.
Ms. Morgan graduated with a business skill in anti-money laundering analysis, but said the most important thing was advising, coaching and building trust at Year Up and JPMorgan Chase. “It gave me self-esteem to feel like I could really fit in a place where I never thought I could,” she said.
There is a growing track record of success for programs that are attuned to the hiring needs of companies, but go far beyond teaching technical skills. Older and larger organizations that evolved over the years include Year Up, by scholas, NPower other ProjectQuest. Recent entries showing strong results include MeritAmerica other Search.
Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University, was the lead author of a 2020 study of comprehensive programs, which included Year Up, Per Scholas, and Project Quest. Such programs, they concluded, generated lasting wage gains of 11 to 40 percent.
“There are very valuable lessons here for the government to improve its programs,” Dr. Katz said.
Applying those lessons on a broader scale is the purpose of the Good Jobs Challenge government grants.
“This is a significant commitment of resources and there will be a lot of eyes on the results,” said Maria Flynn, executive director of Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization that will identify and share best practices among grantees. “That will really influence what is proposed and funded in the future.”