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Dollars and Sense: How "Career First" Programs Like Year Up Benefit Youth and Employers

Terry Grobe, Elyse Rosenblum, and Todd Weissman

Despite earning a high school diploma or GED, millions of young people across the United States are stuck. Unable to continue their education or find a decent job in a knowledge-based economy that demands postsecondary credentials, they fall outside the economic mainstream, with little realistic hope for a financially self-sufficient future. At the same time, many employers struggle to find a steady, reliable, and affordable stream of talent. The current economic climate has not improved this situation.

Against this dreary backdrop, an unusual partnership has emerged involving some of the nation's leading businesses. Over the past decade, Year Up, an intensive, year-long education and workforce training program, has placed more than 2,300 low- and moderate-income young people into internships with more than 100 employers across the country, including Fortune 500 companies such as American Express, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and State Street Corporation. Nearly 75 percent of Year Up graduates are employed within four months, hired into jobs with an average starting wage of $15 per hour. The vast majority of Year Up employers plan to continue taking interns. Year Up graduates continue to hold jobs years after their Year Up experience and, having earned an average of 16 college credits while enrolled in Year Up, a quarter of them have gone on to enroll in further postsecondary education.

This report describes the Year Up model, highlighting its extraordinary employer commitment and participation. It explores why employer partners have been willing to make such significant investments, particularly in a difficult economic climate. It explains the key elements of the program and reviews evidence of its impact. In interviews with partnering businesses, employers explain why they offer internships to Year Up students and, roughly 30 percent of the time, later hire these interns for positions historically reserved for college graduates. Finally, the report discusses what we can learn from the Year Up experience. It looks at how stronger employer involvement could strengthen postsecondary career track programming and improve employment pipelines for employers.