How Closing the Opportunity Divide Will Strengthen Our Workforce

Guylaine Saint Juste is the executive director of the National Capital Region chapter of Year Up, a national nonprofit working to close the “opportunity divide.” Below, she shares her thoughts on why companies should think differently about where good talent can come from.

Guylaine Saint Juste, executive director of Year Up, National Capital Region

What is the “opportunity divide” that Year Up seeks to address? What does that divide look like in the DMV?

Guylaine Saint Juste: In the United States, over five million young people are disconnected from stable career pathways. Meanwhile, over the next decade over 12 million jobs are expected to go unfilled due to a shortage of available talent. At Year Up, we call that the Opportunity Divide. These young people have critical skills—resilience, grit, and motivation—however they are disconnected from the economic mainstream.

In the Greater Washington region, over 87,000 young people continue to be disconnected from meaningful careers that pay livable wages. By connecting young adults who need opportunity with companies that need talent, Year Up is committed to closing the Opportunity Divide and to tackling the systems that perpetuate inequities in our Nation’s Capital and all around the country.

How is Year Up working to close that divide? Tell us about your programs.

We serve young adults ages 18-24 with a high school diploma or GED. Our direct service model lasts 12 months. The first six months include intense training of both professional and technical skills in a field such as IT, Software Development, Cyber Security, Project Management, and Sales Support, among others. The remaining six months are spent on an internship with a corporate partner, for instance The Carlyle Group, Capital One, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Fannie Mae, Splunk, Accenture, Maximus, Deltek, Exelon, and Buchanan & Edwards, where students can practice the skills learned. Through this partnership, our students get on-the-job training and experience, while our partners are able to tap into a diverse pipeline of skilled entry-level talent. Within four months of completing the program, over 90% of graduates are employed and/or enrolled in postsecondary education. Employed graduates earn an average starting salary of $40,000 per year.

How does Year Up partner with other organizations and entities in the region? Do you have hopes to expand your partner network, and if so, how?

Nationally, more than 250 forward-thinking companies and 41 of the Fortune 100 partner with Year Up. Year Up’s corporate partners gain access to a diverse pipeline of bright, motivated, and skilled talent to address their evolving talent needs, and our graduates gain the opportunity to launch professional careers in highly sought-after roles at top companies.

In the National Capital Region, we partner with over 60 organizations, and we look forward to expanding our partnership base. Our goal is to enable our ability to serve more talented and motivated young adults across the region and provide more companies with the opportunity to tap into talent that fuels innovation, strengthens teams, and drives businesses forward. Ninety percent of corporate partners would recommend Year Up to a friend or colleague.

Is there anything that you think is widely misunderstood about the region’s workforce pipeline?

Yes. The region is hyper-focused on sourcing top talent to prepare for the future of work, but many companies’ talent acquisition practices are still primarily focused on traditional recruitment sources like colleges and universities, overlooking alternative sources of talent ready and equipped to meet their needs. We know that to build a stronger future workforce and truly address the talent gap in this country, companies need to implement more inclusive and equitable talent strategies and open their doors to a new pipeline of talent from non-traditional backgrounds.

One opportunity to build a stronger talent pipeline is by removing the requirement for a four-year degree. This requirement holds back the growth of the economy by excluding a large portion of the population. Census data reveals that only 60 percent of adults in Washington, D.C. have a Bachelor’s degree. In Maryland and Virginia, it’s even lower—41 percent and 39 percent, respectively. According to recent research, over 76 percent of jobs posted require a four-year degree. However, innovative companies recognize the benefits of opening up the candidate pool by removing this requirement. In addition to allowing for a more diverse pool of talent, data indicates that companies save 31% in cost of labor without any recorded difference in performance. The research is clear: businesses can do good and do well.

What has been Year Up’s biggest milestone in the last 5 years? What about its biggest challenge?

In 2015, we had one location in the National Capital Region and served 240 young adults per year. Five years later, we expect to serve over 500 young adults from our locations. We also launched a Mechatronics training pilot with Micron Technologies and are poised to train in Cloud and other in-demand technologies. We look forward to continuing to grow our corporate partnerships so that we can develop a sustainable and equitable workforce.

What skill – either professional, interpersonal, or other – do you rely on the most as a leader in this context?

For me, it’s about values and principles first: humility, authenticity, awareness, kindness, fairness, faith, courage, boldness. This job offers me the opportunity to couple those values with business acumen; through Year Up I have the capacity to cast a broad and deep vision, that rallies, mobilizes, and inspires 62 tremendous professionals and over 300 volunteers and mentors to take action for justice every day.

What keeps you motivated to do this work each day?

For over ten years, I was identified as a “resident alien with a green card.” I’ve been an American for over 20 years and believe strongly in the ideals of our democracy: “opportunity for all.” And, knowing that around the world over 3.5 billion young people aged 18-24 are left idle without a pathway to a productive and fulfilling life instills a momentum to take action.

How can Year Up add value to your company? If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about hosting interns, hiring graduates, or partnering with Year Up, please reach out to Guylaine Saint Juste at [email protected] to get the conversation started.