Education Non-profits

Untapped Labor: An Interview with Year Up

There is a large population of untapped labor; people who lack the resources to enter the workforce but are willing and able to work. Year Up is a non-profit that gives highly motivated, low-income students the opportunity to break into the professional world through skill development workshops, college credits, and corporate internships.

I spoke with Diana Capmbell – the executive director of Year Up Philadelphia – to learn more about this wonderful organization.


Q: How was Year Up created?

A: Year Up was started 14 years ago by Gerald Chertavian. He was inspired by his mentee in Big Brothers/Big Sisters but was also saddened that he had no access to any viable mainstream opportunities. He started Year Up in 2000 in Boston. For about 10 years, Year Up had its own brick and mortar operations. It would hire its own instructors, and it would give students six months of education and professional skills that they would need for the workplace and then send them on internships for six months – hence the name, Year Up.


Q: What kind of students does Year Up look for?

 A: We look for highly motivated students who can demonstrate that they’re low-income. Students are coming to us with issues such as lack of housing, childcare, transportation. Part of what our program does is meet them where they are and help them problem solve so that they can become reliable workers.


Q: What kind of jobs are Year Up preparing students for?

A: That’s a question that depends on the site and labor market needs for the area. Some examples include quality assurance, human resource services, desktop support, etc. Our site doesn’t have super clear tracks but our students prepare for roles in the IT field at large.


Q: How can you prepare students in such a short time?

A: I think the thing that most people don’t realize is that there are a lot of entry-level jobs that go unfilled and don’t require a college degree. All of our students will receive a college degree eventually but our emphasis is also on the soft skills: showing up on time, dressing appropriately, asking appropriate questions, learning and being comfortable with networking. That is something absolutely anyone can work on in a years time.

We also set students up with internships after a semester of learning. They continue to take courses at a community college while they’re on an internship for six months and after.


Q: What benefits can companies attain from hiring Year Up students?

A: The most expensive, challenging person for a company to hire is the entry-level position. The people filling these positions turn over very quickly and don’t come in with a lot of experience. The benefit for a company that chooses to hire a Year Up intern after they’ve done their internship is that the company knows what they’re getting and they’ve cut out a lot of time and money training that person. The other benefit is that it creates a diverse workforce.


Q: How can you help?

A: People can help by volunteering as mentors and tutors for students, especially in math. They can also help by donating professional clothing.