November 28, 2018
Even as she prepared for her final semester of college, Ashley Carr felt directionless.
“I went to Miami Dade [College] right after graduating; however, I stopped school for a little while after I had a baby,” says Carr, who was earning an associate degree in business administration. “I was trying to figure things out.”
Carr was living at home with her parents and working low-wage retail jobs. Coming from inner-city Miami, she was sure her lack of professional experience would make it difficult for her to find a job in a corporate environment.
“Compared to any other job candidate that would be applying… I knew that my resume would be passed on nine out of 10 times,” says Carr, 25.
But while attending a career fair, Carr discovered Year Up, a one-year program that offered job skills training followed by an internship.
Carr was accepted into the spring 2016 session and attended the training portion while completing her final semester of college.
At the conclusion of the program, the company at which Carr interned offered her a full-time job as a business sales consultant, and she now earns $42,000 a year, plus commission.
“I’m more confident, more career-ready and just more optimistic about not only my life but also my financial situation,” Carr says. “I moved out, I live on my own, my daughter has her own room, I paid off my car.”
Carr is one of nearly 20,000 young adults who’ve participated in the Year Up program since it began in 2000.
Wondering if this could be your pathway to a better job? Here’s what you need to know about Year Up.
What Is Year Up?
Available in 17 metropolitan areas, Year Up is a free program that accepts low-income adults ages 18 to 24 who have a high school diploma or GED but do not have a bachelor’s degree.
The nonprofit provides six months of intensive job training — in the areas of IT or finance — for which participants can earn college credits. After the training, Year Up matches a student with one of its corporate partners — which include American Express, AT&T and GE — for a six-month internship.
During that year, the program also provides students with a weekly stipend. The average per year is $7,172, according to a study by Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE).
The financial benefits after completing the program are even more impressive. Participants’ average quarterly earnings rose by 53% within the first year of completing the program and almost 40% in the second year, the PACE study found.
Closing the Opportunity Divide
In 2015, the United States spent more than $300 billion on postsecondary education programs that were not four-year colleges. The money went to community colleges, certifications, apprenticeships and federal job training programs, according to a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study.
Despite the opportunities for additional education, the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds who were not enrolled in college was 16.8% in October 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 4.1% nationally. The data is the most recent available.
Year Up’s goal is to bridge the “opportunity divide” between underserved urban youth and the unfilled jobs that require postsecondary education, according to Polo Coronado, executive director at Year Up South Florida.
“Many of these students have great talent — some of them, for instance, can program computers or provide support for IT help desks,” Coronado says. “But they don’t really have access to those opportunities.”
What to Expect From Year Up
The Year Up program is one of the most intensive workforce training programs in the country and requires a substantial commitment from students, according to David Fein, principal associate at Abt Associates and research author for the PACE study.
“They have been able to create a simulation of businesslike conditions in the training,” Fein says. “It’s sort of midway between a conventional internship and apprenticeship.”
After completing the initial interest form, applicants sign up for an informational meeting, submit a formal application and attend interviews. Sessions run in the spring and fall, so the program admits students on a rolling basis.
“We’re looking for the interest, the readiness and the need,” Coronado says. “We have an assessment so we know more or less the kind of situation they are going through in terms of their family, their family needs and their access to opportunity.”
Once accepted into the program, students are placed into “cohorts” of peers and are assigned mentors. Students meet with smaller coaching groups weekly in addition to attending the training classes.
The courses teach hard skills like statistics and hardware repair, but it’s the professional communication classes that make the biggest difference, according to Carr.
“Developing those soft skills are what helped… like interviewing and how to send a proper email,” she says. “A lot of young adults don’t feel like they’re ready to step into a corporate environment, simply maybe out of fear or lack of skill set. I felt confident to step into that environment and thrive.”
By the close of the training period, Year Up introduces students to corporate partners at meet-and-greet events before placing them in internships. Companies have the option to offer interns full-time positions at the end of the program; nationally, the target starting offer is $16 per hour, Coronado notes.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
Although she could have spent that year looking for a job on her own, Carr is glad she decided to commit to the Year Up program instead.
“It was a bit of risk,” Carr says. “But I knew that getting the tools that I needed… would definitely get me a lot further than trying to pound the pavement like a lot of people my age do.”
Year Up required a lot of hard work and personal growth, Carr admits, but it also provided the kinds of career connections she never would have made otherwise.
“It was definitely tough, but I was ready to embrace my growing pains and come out of my shell,” Carr says. “What Year Up did was get my foot in the door.”