Tuesday, January 8, 2019


Initiative blends job training (in fields such as financial services) with life training (how to shake hands)

If Ridmi Coe shows up late for her workplace-training program, Year Up New York, she gets a 15-point penalty. If she swears, uses her cellphone or doesn’t dress professionally, same thing. If her score falls below zero, she’s expelled from the free program.

Her reaction? She loves the discipline.

“A lot of us came from adverse circumstances, so we didn’t really have a lot of structure,” says Ms. Coe, who lives in Queens and works as a nanny. “Year Up is almost like a parent teaching us how to be accountable.”

Ms. Coe, who is 24 years old and studying financial operations, is midway through the 12-month program, which provides six months of classroom instruction followed by a half-year internship or apprenticeship with partners such as JPMorgan Chase and Google.

The program focuses on training students in fields such as financial services and software engineering—and can include course work in accounting, coding, cybersecurity and quality assurance—along with soft skills such as networking, making presentations and how to shake hands.

Students sign a contract agreeing to a detailed set of expectations covering everything from their choice of footwear to what they can post on Facebook. “You also earn points for meeting expectations,” says Ms. Coe, who has amassed a perfect record.

The nonprofit program, which trains more than 360 students each year in New York City, focuses on so-called “opportunity youth”—adults age 18 to 24 who graduated high school but live in a low-income household and are typically underemployed.

Just 27% of the 1,500 who apply each year are accepted. To win a slot, they must demonstrate what Year Up New York executive director John Galante refers to as grit: the ability to make a commitment and see it through.

Year Up New York IT student Thomas Huntley is typical. The 21-year-old Harlem man was a class clown in high school and got terrible grades. After graduating, however, he took a childcare job, taught himself IT basics from YouTube videos and volunteered to do computer repairs for people in his community.

“Year Up was my golden ticket, my last chance,” Mr. Huntley said. “At the interview, I gave it my all.”

The classroom instruction, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week in a former Goldman Sachs office in the Financial District, is intense, says Mr. Huntley. He studies afternoons, evenings and weekends. “I had to cut the movies and delete all my videogames,” he said.

The scrutiny is also extreme. Scores are posted every week. Students also receive formal input from coaches, teachers and peers on a regular basis.

Mr. Huntley says that thanks to a recent feedback session, he is working on controlling his demeanor. “It’s like a sad face,” he said, demonstrating the expression he adopts when things don’t go his way. “I’m learning to mask that.”

But the high-expectations model is combined with what Year Up touts as “high support.” Little is left to chance.

Students who meet their contractual obligations earn a $150-a-week stipend to help pay for transportation and meals.

Every student is assigned a coach and professional mentor. The staff of 62 includes social workers who connect students with housing assistance, medical care and legal aid. Mr. Huntley, who is fond of three-piece suits, says that when he ripped his trousers, he helped himself to a new pair from the closet of donated dress wear.

The results? Sophilia Heard, 21, may represent a best-case scenario. The youngest of four raised by a single mother in Queens, she studied financial operations at Year Up New York and got an internship at UBS . “The others at the office came from the best schools in the country and assumed I did too,” she recalled. “When I told them about Year Up, their jaws dropped.”

She now earns nearly six figures working in trading operations for a French bank and is studying statistics and quantitative analysis at Baruch College. Her employer is reimbursing her for tuition.

Not every Year Up New York student sees such good results. A quarter drop out of the program —half of those because their score drops below zero, the other half due to outside circumstances such as financial hardship. But the average graduate from last summer’s class is earning $42,000 a year, says Mr. Galante.

And 18 months after graduation, Year Up students nationwide (there are now 18 campuses in cities across the U.S.) are earning, on average, 53% more than young adults in a control group— a result far exceeding the norm for similar workforce training programs.

The downside to Year Up’s super intense approach? It’s super expensive. The $34,000 perstudent cost is only partially covered by the $26,000 fee corporate partners pay for each intern. The rest comes from private donations.

Mr. Galante says Year Up New York will cut costs by working with community colleges and offering a shorter version of the program to train students for lower-skill occupations, among other strategies.

As the program scales up, he adds, it should become self-sustaining, with the internship revenue covering expenses.

“We can serve thousands,” he said, “rather than hundreds.”

Read on the Wall Street Journal here.