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An Interview With Gerald Chertavian, Founder of Year Up

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Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: Sayre Quevedo

In case you missed it, two weeks ago Youth Radio's profile of the program Year Up aired on Marketplace. The program teaches and trains low income 18-25 year olds in nine cities across the U.S. to work in emerging sectors of the economy like tech, high finance, and government. It's a year long program, the first half is classroom training and second half is an internship at companies like Google, Linkedin, and JP Morgan Chase.

This week we come to you with an expanded interview with Gerald Chertavian, the founder and CEO of the program.

Youth Radio: In a nutshell, why did you choose the name Year Up?
Gerald Chertavian: Year Up for me is a year in which the young adults that we serve have an opportunity to move up in there lives and gain the access and opportunity they need to realize their potential.

Youth Radio: I've heard you mention in a couple of interviews that you teach the "ABC's." What does that mean?
Chertavian: The ABC's are attitude, behavior and communication skills. We recognize that in today's knowledge-based economy things like team work, understanding how to communicate well, how to speak and present well in front of other folks, how to problem solve, how to critically think, what it means to be reliable in the workplace, how to interact with colleagues, those are incredibly important sets of skills that are required in order to be successful in an knowledge-based career.

The saying in business is that, "You hire for skills and you fire for behavior." And one would argue that in order to move up in career, to be promoted, to take on additional responsibility in many ways that's linked more to the attitudes and behaviors that you carry rather than what you know technically about a given subject. And so often they are harder skills, and more influential skills in helping one progress in their career.

Youth Radio: When and how did you first realize that a program like Year Up needed to exist?
Chertavian: I got involved in the Big Brother's program about 30 years ago and at that point was matched with a 10 year old boy who lived in the lower east side of Manhattan which happened to be one of the most heavily photographed crime scenes in New York City. I spent every Saturday of my life with that young boy who is now 35 years-old and a member of our family. I saw through him--David--he had all the motivation, all of the hustle, all the brains and ability but he lacked access and opportunity to get access to the mainstream of this country. So, I really thought long and hard about starting a program to help many, many young people to cross that opportunity divide and realize their god-given potential.

Youth Radio: So, there's been this ongoing conversation about a "Skills gap." What is that and how is Year Up filling the gaps?
Chertavian: Right now, in this country, we have a mismatch between the demand for skilled labor and the supply of skilled labor. We have a country with 13, 14 million people unemployed yet we have 3 million job vacancies so there's a gap or mismatch between the need for skilled workers and individuals looking for work. And many of the young people Year Up serves really don't have the access to get the interview, find their way into a fortune 1000 company--a large employer--so there's a disconnected between those who have access to these types of jobs and those who don't. Very sadly for many of our young adults, their potential can often be limited by their zip code, or by the bank balance of one of their parents, or indeed by the color of their skin. And so we really see this gap as it emerges, and at the same time, we as employers in order to maintain competitive, need workers. And we now know after having served almost 6,000 young adults, that they can be solutions to that need for skills and be economic assets in our country.

Youth Radio: What is Year Up doing that schools aren't?
Chertavian: Year Up combines a system of high support and high expectations in ways that many other organizations either don't or aren't able to. So we have advisors for our students, we have mentors for our students, and should our students need it we have access to mental health professionals should there be a crisis or challenge, say a student becoming homeless and needing support right away.

At the same time we believe the most respect we can pay to our young adults is to expect a lot from them. So we don't believe in the soft bigotry of low expectations. We believe that we want to challenge our young adults, challenge them, and believe they can jump a high bar but also support them to jump that bar.

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit Youthradio.org