Year Up Responds to Young Adult Employment Crisis

June 12, 2014

Fourteen years ago, a social entrepreneur named Gerald Chertavian was determined to help train poor, urban young adults for meaningful careers . . . and in turn, lead fulfilling lives. What began as a small organization in Boston with 22 student participants now has expanded to 12 cities and trains 2,000 students annually. Chertavian named his creation “Year Up.”

Year Up is a one-year program for 18-to-24-year-olds with a high school diploma or GED. Students undergo six months of intensive skills training while receiving college credit, followed by a six-month internship with a business partner. The model is innovative because of features including a student contract with monetary incentives; a weekly stipend earned from the beginning of training through the entire program, and a six-month internship at one of more than 250 business partners including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Facebook, and Twitter, among others.

Year Up creates curricula that meet the business partner’s needs and also helps the business partner build a pipeline of talent through internships and entry-level hiring. However, before sending the young adults to the internship, Year Up teaches workplace standards of attitude, behavior, dress, and communication. For many students, like Jay Hammonds, this is the first time they have received this type of guidance. 

Abandoned by his parents at the age of 4, Jay Hammonds grew up in the San Francisco area and actually started college, but dropped out during the first year when he ran out of money. At Year Up, Hammonds entered the training track for information technology and immediately found his niche. Hammonds was assigned to Facebook for his internship.  

“I’ve always been interested in technology, but I never thought I could have a career in it,” says Hammonds. “On the first day of my internship, I honestly was a little nervous. My biggest challenge was speaking up and reaching out, but I turned it into a strength. I overcame my fear of diving into something and took more initiative in reaching out to other people.

“I was so excited the day Facebook offered me a full-time position,” he adds. “One of the things that I often think about while I’m at Facebook is the ripple effect that Year Up creates. There are many more Year Up interns here now which is very exciting.”

Economic Mobility Corporation conducted an evaluation of Year Up graduates and found that the organization demonstrated large, sustained earnings gains for its participants. Over a three-year period after participating in the program, Year Up students earned on average about $13,000, or 32 percent, more than those in a control group of young adults. The gains were driven by the higher hourly wages earned by Year Up participants -- $14.21 an hour on average, or $2.51 more than control group members.

Year Up graduates like Hammonds who secured jobs in their target occupations of information technology or financial operations earned much higher average hourly wages of $17.42 to $18.89. Prior to joining Year Up, participants reported earning a median hourly wage of $8.25 in their longest held job.

With its demonstrated success, Year Up shows a truly promising response to our nation’s young adult employment crisis. Earnings gains this large have not been seen in the youth employment field in a generation and demonstrate that investment in long-term training can offer substantial dividends when tailored to employers’ needs.

We need to create and support a cadre of strong, effective organizations like Year Up that can bridge the divide between young people eager for a better future and businesses seeking a skilled, motivated workforce.