Job Training for Hard Cases

  • Prosperity
  • 1984

Two Manhattan banker/donors disturbed by a chronic lack of employment among many inner-city residents. An East Harlem ex-convict and drug addict who got clean and then earned a master’s degree from Columbia University. Put them together, and an unusual job-training program built on (very) tough love is born. It’s called STRIVE, and it is highly effective among difficult populations. One third of STRIVE clients are former prisoners, about a third have no high-school diploma or GED, yet two thirds of its graduates are placed in jobs, at pay averaging 150 percent of their state minimum wage, and more than 70 percent of these stick in their new employment—all figures that shatter typical results from government job programs. Meanwhile the average cost per job placement for STRIVE is less than $2,000, while the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Corps program, which serves similar persons, costs almost eight times as much, even though only 20 percent of its graduates were employed after six months.

One big difference, City Journal’s Kay Hymowitz has noted, is that STRIVE builds “the all-important ‘soft skills’”—respect, punctuality, initiative, honesty, reliability—and in an determinedly no-nonsense way. Uncooperative attitudes and excuses for failure are broken down by the STRIVE instructors, all of whom have themselves triumphed over corrosive street habits. The result of their strict demands, in-your-face intensity, and follow-up and support (graduates are monitored for at least two years after graduation and assisted as needed) is creation of a new “understanding of the manners and values of an alien mainstream work world.”

STRIVE’s successes have allowed it to spread to more than two dozen cities. Over 50,000 tough clients have been trained under its auspices. Since its founding, STRIVE has enjoyed philanthropic support from donors like the Clark, Abell, and Annie E. Casey foundations. The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation has been a stalwart backer from early on, and current donors include Walmart, the Blackstone Group, and the Rudin Foundation. Each chapter is mostly funded by local philanthropists.