“America is still the best experiment in human history. Anyone can come here or be born here with dreams and aspirations, and there will be opportunities to pursue them through education or a career. However, we’ve become a country where there is fragmentation between education and labor. But, Venture Philanthropy Partners is changing this conversation, so we can talk about an economy that works for all in this region.” These were the powerful words that Guylaine Saint Juste, Executive Director of Year Up National Capital Region, shared during a recent forum hosted by VPP.
On June 27, VPP welcomed investors, nonprofit partners, business leaders and members of the philanthropic community for a dynamic discussion about the importance of working together to create career pathways for young people. We are grateful to Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States for hosting the event in their Center for Total Health – and for their partnership and support of VPP and our initiative Ready for Work: Champions for Career-and College-Ready Graduates in Prince George’s County.
The fragmentation that Guylaine remarked on – and the need to address this challenge head on by strengthening career pathways for youth in Greater Washington – has a direct impact on the future of our region. We are committed to ensuring a future where the young people in our community are given the support and opportunity necessary to fully participate in our ever-changing economy. If young people in the region are going to be able to pursue their goals and grow to be productive, successful adults, they need access to careers, not just a job. We know that in today’s economy, we can’t just keep supporting the status quo approaches to help our youth transition to adulthood – we must prepare them to be able to pursue all of the pathways and options available, whether it is going from high school to college or post-secondary training, straight into the workforce, or a combination of approaches.
At VPP, we and our partners believe that youth should not be pushed into the false dichotomy of college vs. career right after high school. Both can be legitimate paths to long-term success, and often students start with one to get to the other. We know that if a young person has meaningful work experiences while in high school, they are much more likely to be employed after high school and be able to not only get a job, but also to secure a rewarding career over the course of their lives.
To be successful, these pathways require strong, long-term and effective partnerships with employers – business leaders that understand the promise and value in looking to our youth as an important piece of their talent pipeline.
During our forum, VPP Partner Telaekah Brooks led a dynamic discussion with speakers representing Prince George’s County Public Schools Career and Technical Education Programs, Kaiser Permanente, Year Up National Capital Region, and its employer partner Deltek.
Our investment in the Prince George’s County Office of Career and Technical Education is a key component of Ready for Work. Kaiser has been a leader in recognizing that high school youth can participate in the regional economy; serving as an active partner with Ready for Work; and engaging youth in career development field trips and hiring youth through the county’s Summer Youth Enrichment Program.
VPP initially invested in Year Up’s growth in the region in 2009, and they are a network partner in Ready for Work. Year Up NCR delivers specific training and support to recent high school graduates and provides them with valuable paid internships with regional employers. We see these work experiences as critical for students who do not choose to go directly to college after high school and Year Up NCR’s connection to employers is key to their success. Deltek is a leading global provider of enterprise software and information solutions for project-based businesses. The company is a long-term partner with Year Up NCR and sees a clear value to its bottom line in working with the organization to develop its talent pipeline.
Tanya Edelin, Director of Community Health Strategy and Operations at Kaiser Permanente, and Lateefah Durant, CTE Coordinator of PGCPS, shared that employers need to move away from thinking of youth employment as charity and to start realizing that it should be a critical part of their talent development strategies. As Tanya explained, “Kaiser understands that when we are thinking about hard to fill roles in our business, we need to think about long-term strategies. What does the evidence say about retention? What is the cost of high turnover? We know that if we are going to create a long-term workforce pathway, we need to start as early as high school and allow people to advance through the organization to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our talent pipeline.”
Lateefah noted that the Prince George’s County CTE office works hard to align their in-school curriculum with industry needs, “We offer over 40 different CTE programs. We’re preparing students for the workforce by making sure they have industry certifications and licensures. But, we felt like we could do more to ensure that they are connected directly to workforce, not just prepared. So, with the support of partners like VPP and Kaiser, we are now doing more. We keep careful track of the high-growth and in-demand fields in our region and work to provide curriculum and training that are in line with those fields.”
This kind of alignment between organizations preparing youth for adulthood and regional employers looking for sustainable talent pipelines is also a hallmark of Year Up’s relationship with its employer partners. Throughout the morning, Guylaine Saint Juste, Executive Director of Year Up National Capital Region, and Michael Corkery, President and CEO of enterprise software company Deltek, reinforced the direct connection between investing in youth and a business’ sustainability. Guylaine pointed to a Harvard Business School study that concluded that when young people have strong training that involves strong technical skills coupled with professional development, there is no discernable difference in their ability to perform in the workplace relative to college graduates. Michael explained how Deltek views their relationship with Year Up: “The mission – closing the opportunity divide – is one we really believe in. But more importantly, our interns are amazing students who are an example to our other employees. It’s a pipeline of talent – Year Up delivers interns who are ready to deliver value to the organization. They do a great job as a part of our team.”
Guylaine and Michael also shared the story of a current Deltek intern that further illuminates the connections between VPP’s investments and their impact. This intern graduated from Suitland High School, a Ready for Work school, in 2016. Because of the skills that he acquired through his experiences in the CTE program at Suitland, he entered Year Up’s training program at a higher level and that has served him well in his current role as a Sales Development Intern at Deltek. As Michael explained, interns like this one prove that they are ready to deliver value to their employers from Day 1. They have a strong track record of transitioning from interns to full-time employees and advancing in their careers and are viewed as a vibrant piece of the company’s talent pipeline.
The panel – and the example above – highlights the importance of connections between all of the work that we do in this region to improve the lives of young people so they can successfully graduate and pursue their college and/or career ambitions. The discussion underscored how dynamic our region is – and how critical strong partnerships are to create large-scale change.
Right now, Greater Washington is at an inflection point. There are exciting new changes and opportunities, like the upcoming launch of Amazon’s HQ2 in Northern Virginia, that will have major impacts on our economy and create a great demand for a strong talent pipeline.
We must make sure students graduate from high school on-time and with the academic and technical skills that will make them career- and college-ready. These are the same skills employers need and are looking for in the young talent that fuels a community’s economic growth and prosperity.
During the Q&A session some raised a very important question – how can we help scale models that show progress to spur widespread change? VPP has learned a lot about scaling over the past 20 years. When we started out, we invested in individual organizations to build their capacity. We were able to demonstrate that successful scaling happens in partnership through our early investments, including Year Up. But, over time we asked ourselves, “Are we serving as many young people as possible and truly transforming lives? How can we align resources and actions to have better results?” What we realized is that we needed to continue to build organizational capacity and hold those programs accountable for their outcomes, but also reach down a layer to impact systems. Through Ready for Work, we have demonstrated that a network approach can – and does – work. VPP’s experience in bringing together leaders from all sectors and delivering results for almost 20 years, as well as the progress we have made through our Ready for Work model, is attracting public and private sector stakeholders from across the region to find cross-sector solutions to the challenges facing vulnerable communities.
We are working closely with the Fairfax County Executive and members of his senior team to develop opportunities for VPP to help improve outcomes for their vulnerable children and youth. And, we continue to explore opportunities to build a collective impact approach to address issues facing boys and young men of color in DC. We are also in the midst of updating the seminal Capital Kids Report that we published in 2012 to provide an assessment of the status and needs of children and youth in the Greater Washington region. When it was first published, the Capital Kids Report was an invaluable resource to helping us all understand where our support was needed the most and we know that it will be a critical tool for us again. We look forward to sharing it with you early next year.
It is now more urgent than ever before for all of us – and all of our business, government and social sector partners – to work together to make sure that all the young people who call the Greater Washington region home are ready for these new opportunities. They want to continue to live in this region and contribute to our collective well-being. It’s our responsibility to help prepare them to do so.
VPP is excited about the future and the opportunities to come. We look forward to working with all of you to have an even wider and deeper impact on youth outcomes throughout our region.