Year Up Arizona

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Year Up is a national group providing young adults with the skills, support and experience to reach their potential through higher education and professional careers. The group brought its program to Arizona. Kim Owens, executive director for Year Up Arizona talks about the program.

JOSE CARDENAS: Year Up is a national group providing young adults with the skills, support, and experience to reach their potential through higher education and professional careers. The group brought its program to Arizona and it's a chance to give young adults the skills they need to get a job. Joining me now to talk about the program is Kim Owens, founding executive director for year up Arizona. Kim, welcome to "Horizonte."

KIM OWENS: Thank you.

JOSE CARDENAS: You guys just started in Arizona earlier this year. What brought you to the state of Arizona?

KIM OWENS: Well, we have been around 15 years in the country. Some of our nation's largest employers and our largest partners brought us here by demand and mentioned Arizona as a place that had a large demand of middle skills jobs that would align perfectly with our program. So, American Express, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase suggested that we come here and here we are.

JOSE CARDENAS: And we didn't plan it this way. I wish we had. But it is just pure coincidence that the segment we had on big brothers big sisters, they age out at 18. That is when you pick them up.

KIM OWENS: Absolutely. So many great programs that start from grade schools, high school, but they sort of stop at 18 years old. And that is where Year Up steps in, 18 to 24-year-olds pick up on the good work that has been done by so many community organizations and high schools, absolutely that's where we jump in.

JOSE CARDENAS: Tell us what a typical experience would be for a 18-year-old?

KIM OWENS: As the name implies, Year Up is a 12-month program. When you start the program, the first six months are in what we call learning and development. A training program where you learn professional skills, resume building, interviewing, elevator pitches and then it moves into technical skills. Complex as job programming, HTML, complicated roles. They learn the professional and technical skills in the first six months. If you complete that successfully, you are guaranteed an internship at a fortune 500 company or an Arizona employer. So, those six month internships are supervised. We provide high support, high expectation throughout the program, and after six months, we find that the success would lead to either a full-time career or a full-time enrollment back in school.

JOSE CARDENAS: Those first six months, that is at the community college right?

KIM OWENS: Yes, we partner with gateway community college. Their faculty actually teaches a lot of technical components of the program like, JAVA, HTML, business communications and things like that.

JOSE CARDENAS: What are the criteria? I assume they have to be high school graduates.

KIM OWENS: Yes.

JOSE CARDENAS: What about eligibility for higher ED?

KIM OWENS: High school graduate or GED. And we work through those obstacles, the barriers that might keep someone out of higher education. Sometimes when we talk about eligible, sometimes the only barrier could be a $50 bad debt from a student prior experience. It could be greater than that as well, but a barrier might be finances that they can't pay for their own education. A barrier might be that they just dropped out of school, with a lower GPA. We work with gateway and we enroll students and provide that support framework for the duration of the program.

JOSE CARDENAS: Are there certain expectations for that first six months in terms of how they perform at the community college?

KIM OWENS: We have academic guidelines in place that help support a student to success in the program. When they're done with the program, they will end up with 30 college credits. That is halfway to an associates degree but they have to earn that by maintaining a C or better GPA, and some academic integrity in, you know, issues throughout the program, we support a student throughout that process to help them get their academic requirements completed.

JOSE CARDENAS: And then the next six months, the internship.

KIM OWENS: Yes.

JOSE CARDENAS: Give us an example of those.

KIM OWENS: We have internships, right now, we have 30 interns placed around the valley with some of the organizations that I mentioned. There is a high support model in place that says they will meet regularly with their supervisor. They come back to Year Up where we identify any trends in performance. Are we tending to be late? Are we missing days of work? Are we doing exceptional things well that we want to pass on and carry through to the entire group? We monitor that experience and work closely with employers to help build the talent that we have in those internships.

JOSE CARDENAS: Are these unpaid internships?

KIM OWENS: The students in our program will have a stipend paid to them through Year Up. So, technically they're unpaid, but there is a small stipend to help with living expenses as they venture into that 12 month journey.

JOSE CARDENAS: What happens at the end of the year?

KIM OWENS: At the end of the year, which will be December, we will graduate our first class. At the end of the year, we find and target the outcomes as follows. One would be within four months of completing the program, 85% of the students will go into full-time careers.

JOSE CARDENAS: This is based on experiences in other parts of the country?

KIM OWENS: Yeah, so, thank you. What we find nationally, and what we hold ourselves accountable to is at least 85% of the students that finish the program will land full-time career or full-time education within four months of completion. We look for salary guidelines. Our national average for salaries after completing the program is $16 an hour or $32,000 a year. We also measure satisfaction on employer satisfaction, so if we look at our base, in our history so far, 90% of those employers that work with us say they would work with us again and they would tell a friend about Year Up. It is a win, win, win.

JOSE CARDENAS: How do these students find you, these young adults or -- and also how do you find them?

KIM OWENS: It has become a bit of a grass roots campaign for us. Ultimately what we will find is that 80% of the participants find us through word of mouth. That's about three years down the road. And meanwhile, we're sort of a new and unproven entity in the Phoenix area. So, how we find students is building relationships and partnerships through community organizations, high schools, and we go actively recruit and have full-time outreach specialists who help us to find the students. We attend job fairs and education fairs and really try to create word of mouth campaign in a very small and grass roots effort.

JOSE CARDENAS: How many young adults do you have in the program now?

KIM OWENS: Today a capacity for 120 young adults. We have 110 in the program right now.

JOSE CARDENAS: Ultimately what capacity are you looking to have?

KIM OWENS: The sky is the limit. When we look at the population that could be served, Arizona alone has 93,000 opportunity youth, that's the youth we described as unemployed and not currently enrolled in school. So we gave a population of 93,000 young adults to serve here in the greater Phoenix area alone. Our only limits are those who are willing to engage and employ these interns, and to me, we shouldn't stop at, you know, 200, 400, a year. There is a lot of work to be done here. It just requires a small community of support to do that.

JOSE CARDENAS: Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about this great program.

KIM OWENS: Thank you.

Kim Owens:Executive director for Year Up Arizona

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