An Extraordinary Example of Collaboration Helps GE & Year Up Bridge the Opportunity Divide

I have had the great fortune to be a small part of the extraordinary success of Year Up over the past 16 years.  Year Up is the innovative workforce development organization started in 2001 by Gerald and Kate Chertavian that recruits, trains and places underserved inner city young adults in living wage careers with Fortune 500 companies and other leading enterprises.  Year Up started with 22 students in one Boston location and has grown to serving 3,700 young adults this year in 17 locations across the  country.

I am blessed to have had the opportunity to play many roles at Year Up, including serving on the National Board for a decade.  My current role is working with a handful of large US companies: GE, Comcast, Liberty Mutual and IBM to identify and fulfill their needs for entry-level middle skill talent.

A few weeks ago, we were given the opportunity to share this video at a conference attended by 300 GE IT Leaders from around the world:

Click on this image to view the GE Year Up video

Even though I have been doing this for over 16 years – the video literally sent chills down my spine.  As I have often said, I am one of the luckiest men in the world and appreciate so much the opportunity to work with Year Up’s students and corporate partners every day.

Last weekend, I thought a lot about the series of events and extraordinary level of collaboration that led to the creation of this video and wanted to share them with you.

All roads lead back to David and Gerald

Year Up was started in 2000 by Founder & CEO Gerald Chertavian.  After graduating from Bowdoin, Gerald worked on Wall Street and spent every Saturday with his “Little Brother” David Heredia.  He quickly realized that David and many of his friends were smart, motivated and capable, but didn’t have the opportunity to realize their potential to end up in prosperous, meaningful, fulfilling careers.  After selling his successful internet company in 1999, Gerald dedicated himself to creating Year Up to provide the “David’s” of our country with the skills, experience and support they need to succeed.

Gerald Chertavian and David Heredia 1988

Our founding corporate partners

In addition to GE, Year Up has supplied talent to over 250 leading enterprises across the country. Without them, Year Up couldn’t exist.  Today, we benefit from a tremendous 16-year track record of providing real, tangible value to our corporate partners and can back that up with a 60 Minutes episode about Year Up that includes testimonials from Ken Chenault, the Chairman of American Express and Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase.  But in the beginning, Gerald and I were void of any hard evidence that our model would work. Luckily for us and the 16,000+ students we have served, a few visionary leaders took a chance on our model and hired the first Year Up interns.

They included:

  • Phyllis Yale – then Managing Partner for Bain & Company’s Boston office
  • David Kenney – then CEO of Digitas
  • David Andre – then CIO of Upromise
  • Brett Browchek – then COO of Putnam Investments

With the initial support of these leading companies, we were able to secure commitments from enough companies to place our first class of students in their internships.

Founding Corporate Sponsors

Our extraordinary Founding Class of students

Without the grit and determination of our students, Year Up would not have made it to its second anniversary, much less to 17 cities.  The success of our students – from class one through those on internships today – is the real reason Year Up has been so successful.  Our corporate partners continue to hire Year Up interns and graduates and refer us to their colleagues at other enterprises because they have found that we have become a valuable pipeline of talent.

Year Up’s Founding Class February 2001

Our partnership with GE Digital and the creation of the video

The genesis of the partnership with GE Digital began in 2013 when our consultant Ed Solomon introduced Year Up to Bill Ruh, the CEO of GE Digital.  With Bill’s support, Alex Nguyen and Raul Cardenas became the first Year Up students placed at GE Digital in San Ramon in January 2014. Both had successful internships at GE and were offered and accepted full time positions.  Alex currently works as a software developer at OSU’s Open Source Lab and Raul has been promoted several times at GE and currently works as an Application Operations Engineer.

After seeing the 60 Minutes episode about Year Up, GE CIO Jim Fowler discovered that GE Digital had hired several students and graduates.  When GE made the decision to move their headquarters from Fairfield Connecticut to Boston’s Seaport area, Jim asked CTO Adam Radisch to consider placing Year Up interns in their My Tech Lounge at the new office.  Modeled after Apple’s Genius Bar, GE’s My Tech Lounges are walk-up help desks in attractive lounge areas where employees can quickly get support for laptop, tablet, phone and other hardware and software problems.

Last June, Year Up Boston’s Business Development executive Randi Kinsella and I traveled to meet with Adam to explain our program and discuss the opportunity to pilot our students in a GE My Tech Lounge.  Amidst Yankees memorabilia and moving boxes being packed for his impending move, Adam gave us 30 minutes to explain Year Up’s model.  We had a full presentation, but quickly made the decision to share only one slide:

Although he appeared supportive at the time, Adam later shared, “When I first heard about Year Up, I thought it was a second chance program for at risk kids, and probably not right for GE.  This slide changed my mind.  I decided to give a few students a chance in Boston, they knocked the ball out of the park and now I am Year Up’s executive champion at GE and want to help grow the program to as many divisions that need great entry level talent as we can.”

After returning to Boston, Randi and I met with Year Up Boston Executive Director Bob Dame and other Boston executives and worked with them to “match” the right students for an internship at GE’s new headquarters.  Adam had stressed the importance of strong interpersonal and communications skills when we met with him and our Boston team selected Angel, Cody and Ryan for this pilot program.  Guided by their incredibly supportive GE managers, Alex and Jesse, our three students were successful in their internship and all three received full time offers from GE.  At their graduation, Alex received the award for The Best New Supervisor and Angel was a featured graduation speaker.  From his remarks, I learned that Angel had originally turned down his acceptance to Year Up, but was contacted a week later by a staff member who convinced him to join the program.  If you listen to Angel’s speech, you will hear him give credit to his mom, his Year Up internship colleagues and the support of his GE managers for his success:

Click on the image to watch Angel’s speech

During our November monthly update with Adam, I shared some of the internal communications our other partners have developed to highlight their partnership with Year Up and asked him for an introduction to a GE marketing executive.  Adam introduced me to Jen Sampson, IT Communications & Engagement Leader for GE Digital.

Jen agreed to meet with us on the 23rd of December at Year Up’s Chicago offices.  While most of the country was winding down for the holidays, Roberto Zeledon, Year Up’s Director of Marketing, Randi and I flew to Chicago to meet with Jen, where we were hosted by Executive Director Jack Crowe.  As part of a short presentation about Year Up and our partnership with GE, we shared this JPMorgan Chase video that features CIO and Year Up champion John Galante and several of our graduates who have been hired by the bank:

 

 

Click on the image to see the JP Morgan Chase video


This video was the brainchild of John and my Year Up colleague Betsy Goodell, who leads our partnership with JPMorgan Chase executives.

After a tour of Year Up Chicago led by two students, Jen returned to her office.  Then, acting at what I now referred to as “GE Speed,” she emailed me less than an hour later and invited us to produce a similar video about GE’s partnership with Year Up. If we were able to create a short video by January 16th, Jen had already received approval from CIO Jim Fowler to “premier” it a their upcoming IT Leaders meeting in Phoenix, where 300 GE executives would be in attendance.

Within hours of receiving Jen’s email, Roberto confirmed with Year Up’s Brand Manager Kim Wheeler that we could create a video over the next 3 weeks, despite most people being on holiday between Christmas and New Year’s.  Kim and Randi managed the entire production of the video. I was visiting GE Digital in San Ramon and our Bay Area site when Gerald, our students and their fantastic managers were filmed.

Jen and Jim were also kind enough to invite us to have a Year Up booth at their conference outside the room where they showed the video. During the conference, we made over 20 GE executive contacts and are following up on new opportunities with 5 GE Divisions who have not yet hired Year Up students or graduates.

After hearing Angel’s graduation speech, I reached out to Ari (the social work intern who convinced him to join Year Up) to thank her for that fateful phone call.  She emailed me back, “As one of Year Up’s Co-Founders and head of Boston Student Services Linda Swardwick Smith always says ‘it takes a village to do this work’, and I’m very grateful Year Up and GE teamed up to form that village for these men, and again I’m honored to have been a part of it.”

Her email inspired this article, as it clearly took the entrepreneurial actions of many people to create our GE Year Up Partnership video. My primary reason for writing this was to thank all of those who helped it become a reality.  The more I do this work, the more I realize our success is driven by:

  1. Our students and alumni who make the sacrifices to join Year Up and power through their life challenges to demonstrate their capabilities during internship and graduate from our program.
  2. Our staff and instructors that teach, support and help our students prepare for internship success.
  3. Our extraordinary corporate partners who create the opportunities for our students to succeed.

What I do is relatively easy – I just observe, package and communicate what happens, connect students with partners and make the occasional inappropriate “ask” of our partners like, “Can I bring three of my friends to your internal meeting of 300 senior execs in Phoenix?”

Thanks so much to Cody, Angel and Ryan, to Jim, Adam, Alex, Jesse and Jen and to everyone at GE, our other partners and our team at Year Up who contributed to the creation of the video.

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