Year Up

Lifting Risky Cases Into the Work Force

  • Prosperity
  • 2000

Gerald Chertavian co-founded one of England’s fastest-growing companies while living there in the early 1990s, then cashed out in 1999 at age 34 to devote the rest of his career to social entrepreneurship. He’d long participated in Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the troubles faced by his original Little Brother in a bad New York City neighborhood fed his concern about the human talent going to waste among poor children. In 2000 Chertavian devoted $500,000 to founding Year Up, his effort to help low-income, urban young adults. Enrollees must be ages 18-24 with a high-school diploma or GED, and “at-risk but not high-risk”—that is, not use drugs or have committed violent crime. Many are Spanish-speaking; their average high-school GPA is 1.9 and their average SAT is 780. The one-year program combines classroom training, college credit, and “behavior management.”

After two interviews and signing of an agreement that includes immediate expulsion for drug use and a lower stipend for being even one minute late to class, those accepted receive six months of training (mostly for computer-related jobs) before beginning a six-month internship at a corporate partner. Their “high-expectation, high-support” training also addresses social and emotional development, time management, personal finance, writing skills, conflict resolution, and even current affairs, so they will be at home in a corporate environment. They receive staff advisement on personal as well as professional issues, and are assigned a mentor from the business community. Students receive a weekly stipend of roughly $200, paid by the corporate partners, who also help Year Up itself defray roughly $2,000 out of the $11,000 annual cost per student.

In 2007 the philanthropic arm of Microsoft granted Year Up a multiyear $10 million grant that helped spread the program across the country. Current supporters of the program include more than 80 foundations, companies, and individual donors.

While government-funded job-training programs typically see no more than 50 to 55 percent of their graduates continuing in work after graduation, 84 percent of Year Up alumni are either working or attending college full time four months after graduation. Starting salaries average $30,000 per year, and a 2011 outside study found this was 30 percent more than a control group earned. “These are the most exciting evaluation results we’ve seen in youth employment in 20 or 30 years,” the study’s author remarked, “the first to show a really substantial earnings gain.”

By 2014, Year Up was serving over 2,000 students at 11 sites nationwide, and 91 percent of its 250-plus corporate and government partners say they would recommend the program. Chertavian launched a new program, the Professional Training Corps, modeled after college ROTC, in 2011. Based at community colleges, PTC helps at-risk young adults find jobs to support themselves while earning their associate’s degree. Chertavian aims to expand PTC to serve 100,000 students per year.