What are the best ways to engage for-profit companies in building pathways to real jobs for underserved youth?

We believe that employer commitments to jobs pathways, and not just internships, are essential. These commitments should include defining jobs skills, assisting in the design of curriculum, and providing jobs training—and they should lead to a real job at a livable wage.

In 2019, we helped fund the launch of Braven in New York City through a partnership with Lehman College. Braven is a career success program that builds cutting-edge career education into the undergraduate experience for low-income and first-generation students. A credit-bearing course is followed by an experience that lasts through graduation and includes volunteer professionals leading teams of fellows through weekly in-person Learning Labs, where real-world application of concepts and feedback, plus social capital, is shared. A key component of Braven’s growth and long-term sustainability is increased earned revenue streams from university and employer partners with the goal of having universities, employers, and donors each contributing one-third of total revenue. For the 2020 New York City launch, CUNY Central is covering approximately one-third of the per pupil cost while Lehman College is supporting joint fundraising efforts to cover the remainder of the cost. CUNY will also provide a researcher to help evaluate the impact of the work. We will be tracking not only program completion but long-term attainment of a strong job (defined as a job that requires a bachelor’s degree, is full-time, and offers a competitive starting salary with pathways to promotion). To date, 69% of Braven fellows in other program sites have secured quality full-time jobs or enrolled in graduate school within six months of graduation.

In 2019, through direct conversations with employers, we identified the automotive industry as one in high need of qualified employees. We then created a pilot program at Bronx Community College (BCC), the only CUNY school with an Automotive and Technology Program, to provide supplemental exam prep to prepare students for the first four of eight National Institute for Automotive Excellence (ASE) exams. Upon earning these four certifications, students will be halfway to becoming certified ASE Master Technicians which will make them significantly more employable upon graduation. BCC has a partnership with the Nissan Technician Training Academy, creating a structured pathway for students who achieve certification. BCC anticipates that 80% of its students who sit for the exams will earn certification.

This Way Ahead

In 2019, we again supported COOP, an apprenticeship and job placement program based in New York City that targets underserved and underemployed CUNY students and recent graduates with a clear career path into the digital media industry. COOP partners with multiple CUNY colleges (Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Lehman, and Guttman) as well as community-based organizations entrenched in the CUNY system to find high-potential but underemployed students or recent graduates in need of direction for full-time employment opportunities with upward mobility. Unlike other programs, COOP has built its own network of successful graduates working at digital employers such as Google, Microsoft, and Oath (formerly Yahoo) who provide referrals to employment for current COOP students—an alternative pathway to the traditional networks that have persisted at employers and been an impediment to jobs pathways for those from less traditional backgrounds. The typical COOP candidate graduates six to twelve months before joining the program and earns an average of $15,200 per year. Participants are placed in a four-month training program and engage in 200 hours of training on data analytics or digital marketing skills, soft skills, and project-based learning through client partnerships. Trainings are held at night two to four times a week so that participants can maintain part-time jobs during the day. Following program completion, participants are earning, on average, $45,000 in year one and $70,000 by year four. Since the program launched in 2014, COOP has served over 500 participants (over 85% of whom are minorities and more than half of whom are first-generation college students), 80% of whom have launched full-time careers in tech, design, and media.

For four years now, we have funded a strategic partnership between The Door and the Gap Foundation, which together sponsor This Way Ahead (TWA), a youth workforce initiative that combines The Door’s extensive experience in youth development and job training with retail-specific expertise and employment from Gap Inc. Through this program, youth participate in a four-week Basic Retail and Customer Training, a customized four-week TWA Boot Camp, and a four-month paid internship at a Gap Inc. store. Those who complete internships and meet objective metrics are offered employment at Gap Inc. In the first three cohorts, 91% of youth completed the internship and 68% were offered employment.

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