… Create Internships that Lead to Jobs

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Pipeline to jobs: Groups like Solar One, which trains teens for “green” jobs, use internships to prepare disadvantaged youth for work and careers.

Since its founding in 2000, Year Up, a national job training curriculum for at-risk youth, has managed an enviable record of getting young people into jobs that offer a promising future. The organization, which has six U.S. sites, sees almost 90 percent of its graduates receive full or part-time job placements within four months of completing their internships. The average starting wage: $15 an hour.

While the idea of helping at-risk older youth get a leg up on the future by giving them on-the-job training sounds great, implementing it is something else. Surprisingly few organizations undertake the training of these young people for long-term careers or put them in internships that expose them to real-world job situations and income-earning opportunities.

Kweku Forstall, executive director of Year Up Atlanta, says perspective has a lot to do with success. “Year Up is not designed to be a charitable endeavor,” he says. “We’re about job training.” Forstall says the key to Year Up’s success has been the organization’s high standards: “You’ve got to set the bar high. Hold youth accountable. Teach them consequences. And provide mentoring and support to boost self confidence.”

Finding Partners: Central to Year Up’s success – and that of other similar programs – has been its ability to establish relationships with corporations and agencies willing to provide internships to its trainees. Forstall says Year Up screens all its program participants, eliminating the cost of background checks and drug screening for employers, and provides the employers with well-trained interns who know how to behave in a business environment.

What Works: Programs that offer wages or a stipend create demand. Allan Johnson, director of youth services for JobTrain in Menlo Park, Calif., says he has more applicants than internships because the program offers money, as well as training and job placement help. “We’re putting money in their pockets in an honest way,” he says.

Internships that train young people for jobs that will be in demand, particularly in this tight economy, are best. Michael Johnson-Chase says the interns from Solar One are well-positioned once they leave the Green Jobs Training Program. Year Up, in Atlanta, has a similar approach, training people exclusively for entry-level information technology jobs, which are always in demand. “Entry-level IT is a high turnover sector,” says Forstall. “When we talk to partners, we frame it as a business proposition. There is always a need for entry-level IT workers, and our students come out of our program turnkey.”

Lory Newmyer, executive director of the Hull Lifesaving Museum in Boston, says its Maritime Apprentice Program (MAP) for incarcerated youth has special advantages: “The Hull Lifesaving Museum is a small and flexible organization. We are able to serve kids until there is a positive outcome.”

“By the time kids leave MAP, they will have a network of caring adults behind them,” Newmyer says. “They will have lived and worked outside the criminal justice system and will have worked in an internship with an industry partner.”

The Challenges: Money is hard to find right now for most nonprofits, and internship programs for at-risk youth are no exception. Johnson-Chase says Solar One faces extra challenges because it’s pushing internships in green jobs, something he says private foundations haven’t yet recognized the need for. “We’re waiting for funders to catch up,” he says.

These four organizations are not just turning out youth with resumes but youths with jobs.