Sotheara (So) Yem moved from North Carolina to San Francisco after graduating from high school. Like many high school graduates he worked retail and fast food. What happened next is an example of the fact that, despite work experience and a high school diploma, the opportunity divide can be unforgiving. So’s story shows that even if you worked hard in the classroom and the workplace you still might be unprepared for idea economy careers, because a robust talent pipeline to unfilled high-skilled jobs is not yet built.
I first met So at a past Opportunity Nation Summit at Georgetown. The event drew leaders from both sides of the aisle, from Governor Deval Patrick to Senator Marco Rubio. The bipartisan event focused on the recently launched Opportunity Index, and the work of organizations working with low-income students.
So found opportunity with one of those organizations, Year Up. Year Up is the best example of the potential of collective impact approaches when it comes to readying young people for careers. And in So’s case, support from a collaboration of organizations with Year Up, it was what bridged the opportunity divide.
How Year Up works. Low-income students receive a stipend while enrolled in a one-year intensive training program that includes hands-on skill development, college credits, and corporate internships.
Through Year Up, students are succeeding in the workplace with partners like Dropbox, Facebook, Linkedin and Microsoft. So said:
Year Up is one of the many organizations that helped me. They helped me build a career for myself. The Vietnamese Youth Development Center saved my life and helped me get off the streets. Larkin Street Youth Services gave me shelter. It was a collective efforts from these organizations that gave me a second chance at life.
The backbone of Year Us is their internship experience. This allows local Year Up programs to partner with businesses, HigherEd and local leaders and provides the opportunity for youth to have transformational career experiences.
In and Beyond Schools: Putting More Youth on the Path to Success with Integrated Support by Jobs For The Future and the California Advancement Project, provides recommendations for how to eliminate barriers that exist between organizations that serve students and the business community.
- Aligned funding streams that support a seamless range of resources.
States should grant school districts the flexibility to use ADA funding, professional development funds, and other dollars in nontraditional ways that draw on the resources of community partners.
- Accountability systems that place a high priority on what matters.
This includes a broad set of skills and outcomes that matter for college and career readiness.
- Better data flow between systems.
According to the report, “States should grant school districts the flexibility to use ADA funding, professional development funds, and other dollars in nontraditional ways that draw on the resources of community partners.“
- Systemic supports for the range of adults working with youth.
Districts, in particular, must take the lead in bringing partners from other sectors to the center of what they do, regarding them as equal partners with teachers and school staff.
- Connective tissue that brings stakeholders into sustainable, long-term partnerships.
Coordinating organizations can, “Play a major role in heightening awareness of a pressing need, changing the public narrative around opportunity for young people.”
In So’s case, according to Dan Springer, past CEO of Responsys (now Oracle’s Marketing Cloud), the company who hired So after graduating from Year Up, “So represents the source of talent that we have in our country. That we’re not figuring out a way as effective as we need to, to get our growth and employment challenges met.”
Partnerships with collaborative impact are beneficial for both low-income students and for profit companies, and are crucial if we are to close the opportunity divide.
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