By Peter Osborne
Year Up Wilmington will nearly double the size of its next class of students this September, recruiting 80 mostly minority students from underserved communities to a program that combines a college education with six-month internships at local companies.
Year Up Wilmington launched its fifth “cohort” last week with 45 students who will spend the next six months taking classes in Investment Operations, Data Analytics, and JAVA programming at Wilmington University before starting a six-month internship designed to lead to meaningful full-time employment and long-term hope for a brighter future.
“We’re trying to end the cycle of minimum-wage jobs,” said Larry Buonocore, Year Up’s regional director for corporate engagement. “This program provides these students with technical skills through Wilmington University and professional skills through the internships. It’s an alternative to the traditional college experience and to incurring significant amounts of college debt.”
Year Up’s goal is to close the “opportunity divide,” which it describes as “the vast gap between young adults from traditionally underserved neighborhoods who are motivated to succeed but lack access and resources to achieve their full potential and Fortune 500 companies that have sizable human capital needs but lack access to a viable pool of motivated and diverse talent.”
Students attend college tuition-free and receive a small stipend during the program. For the class that started this month, total tuition is $164,052, just over half of which will be covered by federal Pell Grants with the remaining $78,700 balance was paid by Year Up through corporate philanthropy.
Nationally, just 27 percent of the 1,500 young people who apply each year are accepted. There’s a lot of talk throughout the organization about the importance of students showing “grit,” or the ability to make a commitment and see it through.
But it’s working. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report last year of a seven-year study conducted by The Pathways for Advancing Careers & Education (PACE). The study concluded that Year Up had the “highest impact on earnings among participating organizations and had the highest impact on earning among workforce development studies in U.S. history.”
Year Up recruits for the program through strategies not unlike college recruitment. Before they issue an invitation to join the program they assess “risk factors” such as the student’s living situation, the level of family support, and whether they’ve been exposed to or have been a victim of violence. The reason: Statistics show that students with an excessive number of risk factors tend not to complete the program.
At the same time, Buonocore says, “we do everything we can to take away their reasons to say no (to participating) and to be successful. We can provide clothing suitable for the business environment through donations we receive. We helped a student who was taking two buses from downstate to get to Deerfield [for an internship] by paying for Uber.”
Year Up also promises to provide “job support for life” in the event of layoffs or other challenges.
Even with the front-end scrutiny, Year Up Wilmington expects to retain “only” 83 percent of the students who enroll in each cohort. Students sign a contract agreeing to a detailed set of expectations covering grades, professional appearance and language, what they can post on social media, and showing up on time and completing their assignments.
Buonocore, who spent 30 years recruiting for IBM, is responsible for convincing companies in Wilmington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., to offer 300 internships every six months. Those companies will pay $26,500 per internship for the ability to hire highly motivated students between ages 18 and 24 and do what is essentially an extended job interview.
“We’re sucking the risk out of entry-level hiring,” Buonorcore said. “How do you assess work ethic, cultural fit, and motivation in a one-hour interview? You don’t. But you do through internship programs like this.”
The metrics for success include the number of “positive outcomes, “which include a full-time position, completing their degree, or a combination of the two; getting a Year Up-related job, which Buonocore says improves his chances of getting repeat participation by the company; and wage measurement (the goal is the equivalent of $32,000 per year, which they are currently exceeding by a wide margin).
Bank of America (BAC) has hired 500 Year Up interns across the country since it started participating in 2006, including more than 200 who have gone on to full-time positions across the company, said Delaware Market President Chip Rossi.
“In Delaware, Year Up was recently named Bank of America’s 2018 Neighborhood Builder, which includes a $200,000, two-year unrestricted grant and executive development opportunities for the director and one other key employee in the organization,” Rossi said.