Using IT to Close the Opportunity Divide

Editor’s Note: We recently announced Microsoft YouthSpark a new company wide initiative that aims to create opportunities for 300 million young people. A key part of YouthSpark is the work we are doing with nonprofit organizations focused on helping young people access education, employment and entrepreneurship.  Globally, our nonprofit cash grant recipients have been carefully selected with a focus on these specific outcomes. In the United States we’ll be focusing the majority of our nonprofit cash grants on five national nonprofit partners Boys & Girls Clubs of America, City Year, Junior Achievement, NFTE and Year Up. We wanted to share how they will be working as part of YouthSpark and today Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO of Year Up shares his perspective.

By Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO, Year Up

It is little wonder that Microsoft has proven to be an extraordinary friend to Year Up. Both of us operate in the space where technology facilitates the expansion of opportunity, and they have proven to be a natural partner.

Microsoft’s investments in the young adults Year Up serves have been multifaceted and have grown over time, even prior to Microsoft YouthSpark. For years, they have invested directly into our programs in the National Capital Region, Boston, Providence, and New York. Last year, we received a critical grant from Microsoft to upgrade our technology and equip our students with the latest Microsoft products as they prepare for their internships. Thanks, in large part to this support, our students enter their internships in the information technology and financial operations fields with intense training in the cutting-edge programs they’ll use in the workplace. For Microsoft, which has also hired Year Up interns in the Washington, D.C., area and Boston, it’s an investment in their next generation of human capital. For our students, it’s a critical resource in their technical development and an affirmation of their ability to contribute to the economic growth of our country.

Of course, Microsoft’s relationship with us goes beyond dollars and cents. Microsoft employees at all levels have served as tutors, mentors, and mock interviewers for our students. Microsoft has donated laptops to our sites in Providence and Boston, which were used as graduation prizes for outstanding new alumni. And just this week, Microsoft’s generous gift of a day at its conference center in Chevy Chase, MD., allowed us to convene almost 160 alumni from across the country for our first-ever Year Up Alumni Summit.


The inaugural Year Up Alumni Summit held at Microsoft’s conference center in Chevy Chase, MD.


Multifaceted support and investment, like we receive from Microsoft, is catalytic to our expansion of opportunities to folks who so desperately want them. People like Orion Casey, a Year Up Chicago alumna, who was trying to raise her two young daughters on her minimum wage job. At the end of her Year Up experience, she was hired by the company where she interned during the program, and now has a sustainable, living-wage career in IT and plans to continue with her education. Or Roberto Velez, who overcame the longest of odds to start his career at Merrill Lynch and continues to work in the finance industry today.

Year Up serves urban young adults like Orion and Roberto by providing them with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. Eighty-four percent of Year Up graduates are employed or attending college full-time within four months of the program, and those who are working earn an average of $15 per-hour – or $30,000 per-year for salaried employees. Moreover, our interns and graduates are meeting a real business need: more than 3.7 million jobs were vacant last month, in spite of high unemployment, due to lack of technology skills. That’s why many of America’s leading businesses – more than 250 of them – partner with us to secure a reliable pipeline of skilled talent.

YouthSpark will help fuel our continued growth and expansion and, ultimately, support our efforts to achieve broader impact. In 2012, Year Up is serving more than 1,500 students. The YouthSpark investment in our students will support growth in seven of our existing cities, where we plan to increase the number of students we serve by 20 percent in the first year alone. The formalized partnership will help also ensure our students have continued access to the latest software, and will ease the volunteering process for Microsoft employees. And the funding will support our efforts to shift public perceptions around America’s young adults so that more people come to see what Microsoft has: that our young people are assets, not liabilities, to the future of this country.

Most importantly, YouthSpark will open up opportunities for people who need only a chance to prove what they’re capable of. Our students do not come to us looking for a handout. They come looking for a chance to learn the skills employers demand and then demonstrate their ability in the workplace – including at Microsoft. Thanks to Microsoft, we’ll be able to continue providing this opportunity for years to come.

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