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Closing the Skills Gap > Diversity in the Workplace

How Year Up is Closing the Skills Gap and Opening Up Opportunities

Welcome to Empowering Employment, where we celebrate the companies that are doing their part to bridge the skills gap and help the economy. This month, CareerBuilder is proud to recognize Year Up, a national non-profit that provides low-income young adults with the skills and experience they need to “move from poverty to a professional career” in a year. In the following Q&A, Year Up founder and CEO, Gerald Chertavian discusses how Year Up is working to close the skills gap and how others can get involved as well.

CareerBuilder: How do you find the individuals who participate in your program?
Gerald Chertavian: When we first go into a new city, we work with high school guidance counselors, foster care agencies, local YMCAs or churches to find 18-24 year olds who are looking for opportunities. Once we get established in a community, people start to come to us through word of mouth. That’s how we measure success – by the number of students who are referred to us through existing students. It means our customers are telling other customers.

Why are referrals important? They are validation that the program works. This program is not for someone who’s looking for an easy path: Year Up challenges our young adults to be professional, work hard and do everything they need to do to enter great companies in this country. These people know which of their friends are ready to make that type of investment in their futures.

What was the inspiration behind Year Up? I’ve been a Big Brother for about 30 years. My first major experience was in lower east side of Manhattan, where I spent every Saturday for three years with a 10-year-old boy from the Dominican Republic. As I got to know him and the people in the housing development, I thought, “Here are some of the most dedicated, smart, hard-working young men and women I’ve ever met, yet they lack access and opportunity to get into the mainstream of this country.” That struck me as wrong, and I knew we could fix it, because I saw from my little brother how far he could go with just a little support and guidance.

How does Year Up’s mission relate to the skills gap? Businesses today have millions of job vacancies, but are having a harder time finding skilled employees. So right now, we’re thinking about, “What are the populations that we can tap into in this country?” We need to prepare well to meet the demands of what is a knowledge-based country that has to compete globally now; therefore, we need the best human capital we can produce, and we need everyone in the game.

How do you work with businesses to place the individuals who participate in Year Up? After six months of training, participants go to an internship for six months with one of about 300 companies across the country with whom partnered – companies like CareerBuilder, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, State Street, Bank of America, et cetera. For those companies, our young adults become a pipeline of talent. Once those companies hire them, those young people become part of the livable wage workforce. They’re now paying taxes, providing for their families and helping to drive our whole country forward.

So there’s something in it for the companies involved? It’s in the interest of companies to build a diverse pipeline of talent. Employers contribute to Year Up for the benefit of having an intern, and if the intern doesn’t do well, we don’t get paid, and we’re out of business really quickly; therefore, we’re incented to meet the needs of our clients and actually make sure they’re getting talent to help fuel their workforce.

What do you believe is the reason for this skills gap we have today? The needs of the economy have changed, and education hasn’t kept up with those needs; therefore, we have a skills gap in terms of what employers need to be successful and drive their competitiveness versus what our traditional educational systems able to produce. We’ve gotten to the place where we’ve got to keep up and build a citizenry that has the ability to do that work.

Getting Involved: 3 Steps to Closing the Skills Gap

At Year Up, they talk about the three P’s the country needs to change in order to move forward: Perception, Practices and Policies. Chertavian offers the following tips for businesses, schools and government agencies.

  1. Change your perception. Many people look at low-income individuals in urban areas and see social liabilities, when in reality, Chertavian says, these individual are untapped economic assets, who “can be your next best employee.” In order for anything to change, employers must first change their perceptions. “Really look at who’s talented in America, and where does talent reside?”
  2. Change your practices. Today’s hiring practices can hold businesses back. “Businesses set themselves up to hire people in ways that don’t actually open up more pathways to employment,” Chertavian says. For example, businesses need to really think about the necessity of a four-year degree. “Does the four-year degree actually give us what we think it’s giving us in terms of competency and knowledge?” Chertavian says there are better, more accurate ways to assess one’s competency and knowledge than a piece of paper. Businesses can also benefit from partnering with the local community college system or through organizations like Year Up. “It’s those partnerships between education and employment that I think will be one of the saviors of our country.”
  3. Change policies. The last and most difficult step is getting the government to  build the policies to accommodate the above changes. “We have to go to the government and ask them, ‘How can you create the conditions so other programs [like Year Up] can get access to funding, if they practice in a way that meets the needs of both employers and the young people they serve?’” Not only does the government need to support programs with proven success for getting people the skills they need to get jobs, Chertavian believes it also needs to create policies that incent companies to hire and promote people who may come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

[VIDEO] Year Up in Action

Get an closer look at how Year Up works with companies to carry out its mission to “close the Opportunity Divide” in the video below.

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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