Gerald Chertavian

Ashoka Fellow
United States, North America
Fellow Since 2007
My work: Empowering low-income young adults to go from poverty to professional careers in a single year.

Citation

This profile was prepared when Gerald Chertavian was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.
The New Idea
Gerald believes that you solve the talent shortage in the U.S. by convincing employers and corporations that urban young adults are worthy of investment. By placing them in a high support, high performance atmosphere they develop the attitudes, behaviors, and communication skills that will make them an asset to their employers, their coworkers, and themselves.

Gerald’s organization, Year Up, concentrates on the 4.3 million “disconnected youth,” aged 18 to 24, who are neither in school nor employed and are essentially unplugged from the economic mainstream. Gerald provides these young adults with an opportunity to set their trajectory in life by enlisting in a yearlong professional development program targeted specifically to their needs. In a high-expectation, high support environment, Year Up, students earn a stipend while taking classes for six months in technical, communication, and professional skills, followed by a six-month paid apprenticeship with major companies in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Metro D.C., Providence, and San Francisco.

Using this approach, Year Up achieves extraordinarily high levels of satisfaction from its major corporate clients who now count Year Up as part of their sourcing strategy rather than their corporate social responsibility. Senior executives from large firms such as State Street Bank testify that Gerald’s solution provides them with a cost-effective source of reliable, entry-level professional talent. The jobs that Year Up pursues cannot easily be outsourced because they require a physical presence. In addition, the demand for these jobs continues to increase.

Gerald must break several patterns in order for Year Up to be successful. He must teach students who are often from dysfunctional urban areas how to function in a corporate environment, and he must convince corporate executives and hiring directors from major corporations that Year Up is part of their sourcing strategy—not a part of their corporate philanthropy. Gerald has had great success in teaching students from low-income, urban communities how to effectively navigate formal, corporate environments. Between 2000 and 2009, Year Up graduated more than 1,100 students, and 84 percent of these students have secured a job earning $15.60 within four months of graduating. Approximately 45 percent of Year Up’s students go on to enroll in college.

The key to accomplishing both of these goals is Year Up’s attention to the personal development of its students. Each Year Up student receives daily experiential training in communications and professional etiquette. Each is assigned to a mentor. Each is given an advisor and has access to a social worker if needed. Gerald insists, and his staff concurs, that each student be greeted with respect and treated as a professional throughout the course. The students must dress professionally when taking classes. The instructors use respectful titles when addressing the students. The students are instructed in how to network with their coworkers when they are placed in their internships. This consistent projection that they are worthy of respect when combined with the acquisition of real skills tied to an opportunity to reset their lives has consistently achieved a breakthrough in attitude that is unparalleled in typical workforce development programs.

Companies that hire Year Up students rave about their employees’ professionalism. “They show up ready to work,” says Partners in Health Care’s Deputy CIO Mary Finlay, whose staff of 1,400 IT professionals service ten hospitals and other companies in Massachusetts. “And seven years ago, when people started coming up to me unsolicited and complimenting the work and attitude of the Year Up interns, I knew that I had to add them to my sourcing strategy. They didn’t know that the Year Up students were not just regular employees.”
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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