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Year Up: Answering The Skills Gap

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

By: Sayre Quevedo

Two years ago Breyana Scales says she was stuck between a dead end job painting kids' faces at a theme park while trying to get through college. The balancing act proved to be hard for her. "If I had to work a lot I wouldn't be able to do homework and if I had to go to school and do homework I wouldn't be able to afford rent," she said.

Today however, 23 year-old Scales has a job she loves at the San Francisco based video game company Zynga, the Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory of tech companies. I'm talking arcades, themed kitchens on every floor, and a giant light-up tunnel at the entrance. Her offices are enough to make me lose my composure.

Zynga's portfolio of insanely popular games includes Words With Friends and CityVille which is the project that Scales works on, doing something called Quality Assurance, or QA. Scales says she's like a literary editor, except instead of reading a book and looking for bad grammar; she plays Zynga's video games and documents glitches before the games go public. She says, " I had no idea that QA even existed, but once I had the experience inside of the company, then I knew that this is something I really liked to do and this is pretty much my life right now."

So, how did she go from painting faces at a theme park to working in high tech? It was thanks to a program called Year Up which aims to help young adults learn skills in expanding sectors of the economy such as technology, high finance, and government. Even with almost 13 million Americans out of work, companies still complain that they have open positions that go unfilled because they can't find the right talent. Gerald Chertavian, the founder of Year Up, says his organization offers a solution to the skills gap by training low income 18-25 year olds in 9 cities across the U.S. to work in corporate America.

"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," he told me.

The second half of the year long program is a paid internship at Fortune 1000 companies like JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Google. Chertavian says, "We're able to speak with a senior executive at a corporation and say, "If we could show you a pipeline of pre-trained, pre-screened, cost-effective talent would you be interested?""

But for students to even reach their internship, they first have to complete six months of rigorous classroom training. There, they learn things like IT Desktop support and bug reporting in addition to some less technical stuff like how to send professional e-mails,shake someone's hand, or how speak up during a meeting.

In other words, Year Up Interns learn how to walk the walk... and they wear the right shoes and slacks for it too.

24 year-old Christian Ramos is a Year Up intern at LinkedIn. He's wearing a pressed shirt, gray cardigan, and a pink tie. He sticks out among the Silicon Valley techies in their T-shirts and jeans.

Ramos is an in-house IT guy. His job is to help LinkedIn employees who have problems with their mobile phones. Standing at his work station, he reads through a job ticket from a worker who just lost his cell phone. "The policy is that he has to notify us right away," he says, "There's a lot of important information there and we need to make sure that we get that cleared up before anyone gets their hands on it."

Ramos has impressed his bosses. They've even offered him a job once he completes his Year Up internship next month. And he's loosening up in order to fit into the work hard, play hard culture at LinkedIn. When he transitions to full time work at LinkedIn, Ramos says he's also aiming to lose the tie.

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