A Productive Year
For more than a decade, Year Up Providence has given hundreds of young adults the opportunity to train for entry-level corporate jobs in Rhode Island. Over the course of 12 months, dozens of adults facing economic challenges go through intensive business or IT training with a path to land an internship at some of the state’s best-known companies. This month: Jim Hummel goes inside to see why the non-profit workforce development program has been so successful.
For more information about Year Up Providence, click here.
On the 7th floor of an office building in downtown Providence there is a palpable energy, as dozens of young men and women are interviewing with representatives from businesses across Rhode Island.
Even though it’s only a mock interview, they have all brought their `A’ game: the group is well-dressed, well-prepared - mostly confident - and ready to make an impression.
They are among the 80 students enrolled in the latest class of Year Up, a non-profit workforce development program aimed at training low-income adults for entry-level corporate jobs - combining an intense year of academics and internships.
At the end of the month this class will begin internships at nearly three dozen companies across Rhode Island. Year Up is privately-funded through donations, grants and support from corporate partners, and receives no government money.
You hear a similar story from the young adults who have made the cut to be in the program.
Mendoza: ``I was failing at college, I was failing and I needed a second chance.’’
Rodriguez: ``We’re motivated here every day - we came here for the same reason: just to do something better for ourselves.’’
Best: ``They teach you things that you actually need in jobs, which is in my opinion, totally different than college.’’
College wasn’t the right fit for some; others had a job, but wanted a career. Since 2005 Year Up Providence - among two dozen Year Up sites nationwide - has been trying to bridge what its founders call `the opportunity divide.’’
Doyle: ``We know in corporate American that there are 12 million middle-skilled jobs that will go unfilled in the next few years for the lack of a skilled workforce.’’
Cathy Doyle is the executive director of Year Up Providence
Doyle: ``The 6 million young adults in this country who we call opportunity youth live on the other side of that divide - they’re the talent that companies need. Year Up is the bridge that puts those two things together. These are smart young people who have graduated from high school but they live outside the economic mainstream, so they’re either working multiple minimum wage jobs and still living in that low-income space - or they don’t have access to higher education because they can’t afford - even with loans - they can’t afford the tuition or they can’t afford to buy books or they continue to need to support their families while they’re in school and that’s not doable. ‘’
Later this year Year Up will mark the 1,000th graduate to go through the program - a rigorous year of learning and doing that puts virtually everyone here on the radar of some of Rhode Island’s most well-known companies. There are two tracks here: information technology, or IT, and business operations.
The organization’s mission statement and core values are on display in virtually every main room of Year’s Up’s offices on the 7th floor of a building in downtown Providence.
The bar here is high: Students sign a contract with specific expectations, including a dress code, and points are deducted for violations, such as being late. The violations bring consequences that can include the loss of an educational stipend, and in extreme cases dismissal from the program. Doyle says those enrolled know that for every slot available eight or 10 others would like to be here but Year Up cannot accommodate them because of space and resource limitations. As a result, there is a rigorous screening process.
Doyle: ``We know that there is no entitlement, there’s gratitude and there’s a whole lot grit and resiliency that gets them through the program. Many of our young adults overcome obstacles that you and I have never in our lifetime. And I have seen their continued focus on ensuring that they make the most of the opportunity that’s given to them here at Year Up.’’
Bova: ``Coming into a classroom at Year Up the faces are eager from Day 1, the students want to learn, they’re excited to learn.’’
Stephanie Bova joined Year Up as an instructor two years ago, after teaching at Johnson and Wales University. She teaches business writing and communications, which means a lot of getting used to speaking in front of others - as we saw on an initial visit to Year Up in November.
The curriculum is intense so everyone will be ready when - in the second half of the year - they begin their internships.
Bova: ``We definitely adapt that curriculum to their needs, to preparing them for internship, to make sure that everything we do on a day-to-day basis is directly applicable to their professional development. It’s not learning a lesson for the sake of learning a lesson. It’s learning a lesson so that you develop very specific skills that you can then use at an internship and it’s going to make you a valuable asset in a company going forwarded.’’
Mendoza: ``I’m happy to be here. I really am lucky to be here.’’
Brian Mendoza told us that Rhode Island College was not a good fit, but Year Up has been just what he needed and that the class has grown as a group.
Mendoza: ``We look like a family, we act like a family - we’re best friends, we’re colleagues, we’re family members.’’
Mendoza has learned how to give an elevator pitch.
Mendoza: ``You have 30 seconds to show who you are and what you do in the best professional way. And those are the things that they teach us here, which in college they don’t teach you that type of stuff. Those are skills that you have to be taught and it doesn’t just come out of you.’’
Orianna Rodriguez came to Year Up - at age 24 - after working for two years in a factory.
Rodriguez: ``I was getting tired of waking up at 5 in the morning doing mindless work. It’s about time I do something that’s going to get me somewhere or in a room of likeminded people because I was just working with a bunch of older folks - that’s their life and they’re used to it, but I know I’m meant to do more.’’
Hummel: ``What’s the most challenging thing for you here?’’
Rodriguez: ``The challenge was not doing anything that was challenging and you just have to do your best. I’m just on Go every single day.’’
Sahel Lopez Best said he was having a hard time making CCRI work for him.
Best: ``The knowledge from college, it’s like you might need it. The knowledge here is things you need in any type of job.’’
Year Up holds Friday Feedback sessions every week - we happened to catch one in December when mostly everyone was decked out in a Christmas sweater.
Rodriguez: ``At the end of the week we go back to it and they review our points, any late assignments and I like that we’re kind of vocal about it for the room to hear because we’re a community, we’re a family. If one person is falling off a little bit we all get together and give him a good talk.’’
Then there are the internships. Cesar Ramos has been working in the financial systems department at Amica headquarters in Lincoln.
Amica, like many other businesses, gets a known quantity when Year Up interns arrive on campus and the preparations they’ve gone through to get to this point.
One building over from Ramos, Yoberney Ortiz is finishing up an internship in payment processing and plans to go back to school full-time at the end of the month. Ramos has been asked to stay and work at AMICA as a regular employee.
Doyle: ``We want our students to be a valued pipeline of diverse, motivated talent. And they are. Corporate partners are realizing that. Again, if you ask any company in Rhode Island or across the country, they will tell you that there’s a skills gap and that they cannot find the needed entry-level talent. It’s hard for them. For us: we can provide pre-trained, pre-screened, motivated talent that works really well for partners. We can’t do this work without our partners.
And the results in Providence have exceeded expectations: Doyle said 95 percent or more of the last 10 graduating classes achieved employment or going to college full-time within four months of graduation. The last class had an average wage of just shy of $18 an hour. And Year Up’s classes count for college credit if students want to pursue a degree.
Bova told us that a quote she heard from Year Up’s founder and CEO Gerald Chertavian often comes to mind.
Bova: ``We’re not the plane, the students are the plane. We’re the runway. And sometimes you just need a runway, because you’ve got all that energy all that it takes to lift off, you just need a little bit of space to do it and Year Up gives that space.’’
In Providence, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.