Marketo CIO Greg Higham on Partnering with Year Up

If you’ve ever struggled to find a bright, motivated intern, or to fill a mid-level position with a highly-skilled candidate, you won’t be surprised by this fact: in the next decade, 12 million American jobs will go unfilled. And in the US today, 6 million young people are what is called “disconnected” – they’ve either dropped out or graduated from high school, they are not in college, and they’re unemployed.

As Chief Information Officer at Marketo, I’ve watched youth unemployment rates soar with growing concern. I’ve also seen my IT team struggle to find bright, motivated, educated people to fill our IT positions. So I’ve often wondered: how can we help close this gap?

That’s why, when I first heard about Year Up, I knew that Marketo had to get involved. Year Up is bridging the gap between two major problems: young people struggling with unemployment, and companies struggling to find qualified candidates for their teams.

Here’s how it works: Year Up gives low-income young adults (ages 18-24) six months of intensive, interpersonal, professional training in a classroom setting. These students learn skills that most people don’t learn until after college – tangible technical skills such as desktop support, customer service and investment operations, along with professional skills, like presenting to a room full of co-workers, time management and working in teams.

The classrooms use a “high expectation, high support” model – standards are extremely high, but if the students are motivated and committed, the program gives them every possible kind of support. Students meet with their Year Up advisors every week, connect with mentors from their local business community, and have access to one-on-one tutoring at all times.

For the second half of the year, these young men and women put their new knowledge to work. Each one is placed in an internship at a participating company, like Marketo, where they get the kind of on-site experience many young candidates lack. The numbers speak for themselves: within four months of graduation, 85% of Year Up graduates either have full-time jobs (making an average of $32,000 a year) or are attending college.

There are a couple of reasons that Year Up’s mission affects me so deeply. On a professional level, Year Up helps solve a huge staffing problem for technology leaders like Marketo. But on a more personal level, I’m moved by Year Up’s desire to help young people who are bright, motivated, and at a disadvantage for reasons beyond their control.

Marketo got involved with Year Up back in 2012. Our first intern worked in IT desktop support, setting up computers and troubleshooting technical problems for our employees. He was a “tinkerer” by nature – he loved fixing and building things – and because of Year Up’s intensive training, he knew how to conduct himself professionally. Most importantly, he was naturally customer-focused – and Marketo’s IT people need to be personable and patient, not just good with computers.

Each week, I met with him for one-on-one coaching, making sure he was getting the necessary support from myself and from the program. After six months of interning with us, I hired him on as a temporary contractor. I would’ve liked to hire him permanently, but as much as we wanted him to stay, I wanted him back in school even more. We wrote him a glowing college recommendation, and supported him through the application process. I’m pleased to report that he’s now well on his way to earning a college degree.

Marketo accepted our second intern soon after the first, and we’ve just started our third intern. Year Up helps us honor our commitment to corporate social responsibility, which we take very seriously, but it gives us back a lot in return. We’ve loved every Year Up intern who walked through our door, and I’d like to personally encourage you to learn more about the program.

For everyone involved, Year Up is a win-win.

To learn more about Marketo’s partnership with Year Up, listen to Marketo CIO Greg Higham’s interview with Year Up Bay Area Executive Director Jay Banfield and Year Up graduate Alex Maiden on “Today’s World.”