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Use Your Skills to Save the World: Year Up

Year Up is an organization dedicated to closing gap between open opportunities at tech companies and urban young adults who have the desire, but not the skills and experience, to fill those roles.

interns 

(Photo Credit: Year Up/Google+)

This post is part of our ongoing series about companies that give back to the world.

Based in Boston, and with offices all over the country, Year Up aims to close what it calls the "opportunity divide" by offering a year-long program that provides classroom instruction, hands-on learning, and finally, an internship at a Fortune 1000 company.

We spoke via email with Janice Javier, development manager at Year Up Puget Sound/Seattle, to get the details on how Year Up give students the opportunity to learn skills that will change their lives.

PayScale: What characteristics make someone an ideal candidate for the Year Up program?

Javier: To qualify for Year Up, a student must be 18-24 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, and must demonstrate drive and motivation. While experience in Information Technology is not required, interest in IT is a must! Most of Year Up's students face adversity and we look for people who have the drive to overcome those obstacles and better themselves. If they can bring their determination, we can offer them the support and resources they need to succeed.

PayScale: How is the program structured?

Javier: The one-year program is divided into two, six-month long sections. The first section is called the Learning and Development phase. During this portion of the program, our students take classes focused on both hard skills and soft skills. The hard skills classes are divided into two IT classes: hardware and software. Hardware topics include virtualization, networking, and troubleshooting. About half of our students will also take a Quality Assurance course to prepare them for software testing internships. In the software class, IT Applications, students begin by gaining a working knowledge of Microsoft Office. They specifically spend time in Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The students' soft skills classes are Business Communications and Professional Skills. In these classes, students learn what they need to know about going into a corporate environment, everything from composing professional follow-up emails to speaking in public.

The second phase of the program is the Internship phase. Each student is placed at an internship with a Fortune 1000 company. Our Puget Sound site is focused on IT and QA internships, with many of our students going into QA at Microsoft.

PayScale: Soft skills are particularly important in an office environment. Can you tell us more about that phase?

Javier: During the learning and development phase, there is a huge emphasis on the soft skills. At the beginning of the program each student signs a contract. This contract includes all the behaviors necessary for success in an office setting, such as being on time, writing professional follow-up emails, and dressing professionally. Some of the skills that are taught and practiced in the classroom include clear and effective communication, working in teams, and conflict resolution and negotiation. We encourage the students to practice these skills at all times while at Year Up and expect them to carry them over into their internship when the time comes. We like to think that we teach our students everything you need to know about working in an office that no one ever tells you!

PayScale: What happens after students graduate from the program?

Javier: Eight-four percent of Year Up graduates move on to a full-time position or continue going to college after graduating from the program. Our graduates make an average of $30,000 per year at their first position after graduation. Even after students graduate, Year Up continues to provide support through our Career and Alumni Services team. We also encourage our students to stop by our site and share their stories of success or give back to the current students who can benefit from their advice. We love hearing stories of our students earning Bachelor degrees and making significant purchases such as cars. Our site is only two-and-half years old but at our Boston site, which was opened in 2001, it is not uncommon to hear about alumni who now have master's degrees and live in homes that they have purchased.

PayScale: How did Year Up find its corporate partners?

Javier: When we look for corporate partners, we try to find companies in the area that have open positions in roles that our students can fill, just as help desk technicians and quality assurance testers. Our goal is to find a place where our students can learn but can also meet a real business need of the corporation. We look for corporate partners that have these types of positions to fill and can benefit from our students' hard work. Our Board of Directors was initially very helpful in identifying internship seats for our students. Since then our corporate partners have reported a 95 percent satisfaction rate and have said that they would refer other corporations to work with us.

Word has spread and now we generally have more internship seats than we have interns to fill them!

PayScale: How did you get involved with Year Up?

Javier: I began working with Year Up in May 2012 and was drawn to the organization because of a volunteer experience I had a few years ago. As a mentor to a high school student who had a story like many of my Year Up students, I witnessed the Opportunity Divide and its impact on young people. After learning about Year Up I knew instantly that I wanted to be a part of its mission and work.

PayScale: What advice would you give people who want to use their skills to give back?

Javier: Year Up has great opportunities for people who want to contribute to the community using their professional skills. We are always looking for individuals to volunteer as mentors or tutors. Mentors are connected to one student and they have a hand in helping with that student’s job search, professional networking, and helping them adjust to corporate work environments.

Tutors work with students during the learning and development phase of the program, helping with homework and concepts that students find to be challenging while taking classes. These volunteer opportunities are yet another branch of support that we provide our students and another avenue for building professional connections.

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