A Year Up
How a Pioneering Program Teaches Young Adults Real Skills for Real Jobs-With Real Success
The inspiring story of a pioneering program that is redefining urban young adults as economic assets, not deficits
During Gerald Chertavian’s many years as a Big Brother, the former technology entrepreneur realized that our nation’s "Opportunity Divide" strands millions of young, disadvantaged, yet motivated workers at the bottom of the job ladder. In 2000, Chertavian dedicated his life to closing that divide and Year Up was born.
Year Up is an intensive program that offers low income young adults training, mentorship, internships, and ultimately real jobs—often with Fortune 500 companies. 85 percent of program graduates are employed or in full-time college within four months of graduation. Today, Year Up serves more than 1,300 students in nine cities across the nation.
Following a Year Up class from admissions through graduation, A Year Up lets students share—in their own words—the challenges, failures, and personal successes they’ve experienced during their program year. This deeply moving and inspirational story also explains Chertavian’s philosophy and the program’s genesis, offering a road map for real change in our country and a beacon for young adults who want the opportunity to enter the economic mainstream.
As I write this, our nation is in the grip of an economic crisis unprecedented in the modern age. Yet in the midst of record joblessness, Year Up has been able to place our students in good jobs in terriﬁc companies, and we have some pretty audacious plans for expansion. How come? And what’s it to you?
The stakes are high here. Our future as a viable, competitive economy is at risk. We had no crystal ball to predict the current job market woes; I started Year Up by looking backward at long-term systemic failures that have only grown worse. Our program is the response to an Opportunity Divide that, as it gets more acute, makes our mission more compelling and our methods more acutely needed. Putting underserved and marginalized young adults to work in real career paths isn’t a miracle. It’s an achievable reality if you give them access to opportunity. What we provide is good, job-focused education to enter a market starving for skilled workers. How basic is that?
Seeing is believing. By the time you have heard our story and seen exactly how our program works, I’ll have demonstrated a few encouraging truths.
There’s reason for hope: As our nation’s demand for skilled labor increases and its pipeline for high-quality entry-level workers runs dry, Year Up is building a dynamic new workforce speciﬁcally trained for those jobs. For ten years, over four hundred leading organizations have found added value in our students as interns and as permanent hires. We’ve expanded our program across the nation and we’ve proven our model works.
Hope rests on a simple but critical change in perception: Year Up’s talented, successful workforce is made up of individuals too many of us have long been conditioned to see as liabilities. I am going to convince you that this is ﬂat-out wrong. Our young adults are huge assets to an ailing economy once they’re given an opportunity. I am going to show you how the adversity of their beginnings can make them stronger, more motivated employees. Far from being a drag on our economic engine, these skilled new workers will be the key to its future.
All of us can beneﬁt: Depending on your circumstances, there are different ways to hear Year Up’s story and process its lessons.
If you’re an employer, look to these pages for new ways to build a vital, sustainable workforce, one that can leverage your HR expenditures, improve employee retention, and make a greater contribution to the communities where you operate.
If you’re well employed, please read this with an eye toward how you can help ease this nation’s painful job crisis with even the smallest contribution of word and deed. Our corporate partners, volunteers, and working alumni will show you how it’s done.
If you need a job or a new start in life, look to these young people— challenged in ways you might not dream of—for the inspiration to ﬁnd your own way.
If you grew up in a challenged urban community with abundant risks and scant resources, as our students have, if you understand their struggles all too well, take heart and some practical survival tips from their astonishing journeys.
If you have never had the opportunity and good fortune to meet or truly know a single one of the over ﬁve million young people labeled “disconnected” in America today— if your only images of our urban young adults are on street corners, in mug shots, or as stereotyped movie characters— listen closely to their voices here and see who they really are. Our students are my heroes; get to know them and you’ll ﬁnd yourself wishing that you— or your children— had their determination and courage.
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