Abell Salutes: Year-Up, for teaching IT skills, opening doors, and changing lives

March 2012 / Salutes / Education, Workforce Development

For teaching IT skills, opening doors, and changing lives.

Gary Barnes Sutton, an 18-year old African American and 2009 graduate of Mergenthaler (high school) was hustling pizzas at $3.00 an hour plus tips and making maybe $15,000 a year in the culture of the working poor, when he connected with a program called Year Up; some 14 months later he is making $15.00 an hour and $30,000 a year as an information technician working in the white-collar corporate world (T. Rowe Price, Domino Sugar, Morgan Stanley), with prospects of rising income and the wholly different life that accompanies. For Gary and hundreds of other young men and women struggling in an unforgiving workplace where jobs of any kind are hard to come by, Year Up is transformative–changing young people’s workplace skills, income, lifestyle and aspirations. Of his Year-Up experience, Gary says in wonderment, “What an eye opener!”

Year Up is a nonprofit organization that provides low-income high school graduates and GED recipients, ages 18 to 24, with a year of information technology (IT) training, leading to technical careers with starting salaries of $30,000 or higher. During the first six months of the program, participants are paid weekly stipends and attend classes focusing on IT Help Desk and Desktop Support. During the second six months of the program, students are placed in paid apprenticeships with local partner companies to gain work experience in IT. In 2006, Year Up opened an office in the Washington, DC, area (the office is located in Arlington, VA), which has served more than 500 young adults. The site is posting impressive outcomes:

80 percent of graduates are employed or enrolled in college within four months of graduation, earning an average wage of $15 an hour, or $30,000 a year; 

More than 85 percent of Year Up’s corporate partners continue to renew their commitment to future classes; a 91 percent of corporate partners express satisfaction with apprentices.

With $112,000 in funding from The Abell Foundation, 31 Baltimore City residents traveled to Year Up Washington, DC, to complete the six months of classroom work. They completed their internships with Baltimore employers, including Johns Hopkins Medicine, T. Rowe Price, and Morgan Stanley. A total of 18 of the 31 students (or 58 percent) graduated from the program. Of the students who graduated, 15 (or 83 percent) were employed and/or enrolled in college within four months of graduation, earning a starting wage of $15.50 an hour; several are now earning $18 an hour.

In August, 2010, with a $115,000 grant from The Abell Foundation, Year Up opened an office in Baltimore at 201 N. Charles St. Through a partnership with the Community College of Baltimore County, Year Up dual-enrolled 24 low-income students in August, 2010, and 22 more in 2011. Of the 46 students, 24 had prior college experience and 42 reside in Baltimore City. All of the students are low-income (or come from households earning less than $40,000 a year) and more than 80 percent are African-American or Latino.

Students attend classes in the morning at Year Up and are transported to take additional courses at CCBC in the afternoon, earning 13 college credits for this coursework. The Year Up students have surpassed their peers at CCBC in their courses: 77 percent of Year Up students passed Introduction to Computers, compared to 64 percent of CCBC students; and 100 percent of Year Up students passed English 101 compared to 65 percent of CCBC students. Eight Year Up students completed an online developmental education class (ENG 052) at the same time they completed English 101, enabling them to earn college credit.

Students complete their six-month internships with local companies and organizations, including The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Constellation Energy, the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology, Motor Vehicle Administration, T. Rowe Price, and Morgan Stanley.

Of the 24 students from Year Up’s first Baltimore class, 15 (or 63 percent) graduated from the class, completing all coursework and the six-month internship.

Bryant Dooley is an instructor and teaches at Year Up in Baltimore. He adds to the profile of Year’s Up’s mission: “We not only teach the technical skills it take to work as an information technologist; Our students are moving from one world, where low wages inform the way of life, to the corporate world—where what we call ‘soft skills’ count. How to meet people. Vocabulary. Bearing. How to plan and organize. Year Up doesn’t just teach a marketable skill, it opens doors and teaches students how to move through them, and take their place on the right side of it.”

Abell Foundation Salutes Year-Up for teaching students not just a skill to work in the computer world, but one that leads the student from one world to another.