Nonprofit Works With City Public Schools To Fix The Youth-To-Work Crisis In Chicago And Baltimore

06/28/2017 12:45 pm ET
Eshauna Smith, CEO of Urban Alliance.
Urban Alliance
Eshauna Smith, CEO of Urban Alliance.

Across the country, 5.5 million young people are neither in school nor working, and nearly 7 million American youth lack the skill, knowledge and experiences needed to success in school and in jobs. Each young person who is disconnected from school or work costs American taxpayers over $700,000 in lost earnings, lower economic growth, lower tax revenues and higher government spending.

Disconnected youth miss an important chance to start on the path to future academic and financial success. Unemployment and academic under-achievement are associated with a higher incidence of poverty, dependence on public assistance, contact with the criminal justice system and/or imprisonment, health issues, divorce, single parenthood, and limited economic opportunity. For all disconnected youth in this country, the aggregate taxpayer burden is $1.56 trillion, and the social cost is $4.75 trillion.

In Baltimore, more than one in five young people (ages 16 to 24) is disconnected from work and school. That figure gives Baltimore one of the nation’s highest percentages. In Chicago, youth disconnection is also among the nation’s worst, particularly among Black youth (nearly 30%). According to the Baltimore BERC Report less than 70% of Baltimore City high school students graduated from high school in 2015. Chicago is just four percentage points higher, with less than half of Chicago public school graduates enrolling in four-year colleges after graduation.

The youth-to-work pipeline is broken, but it can be fixed—and business partnerships are key to the solution. Urban Alliance is a unique paid internship program that pairs high school seniors with mentors in professional work environments. Their mission is to empower under-resourced youth to aspire, work, and succeed through paid internships, formal training, and mentoring. Programs such as Urban Alliance that provide real world work experience have helped participants gain necessary soft skills, graduate from high school, attain higher levels of education, and increase their salaries by as much as 11% over as many as eight years after high school. Since 1996, Urban Alliance has been providing internships and professional development to low-income youth across the country, providing more than 1,500 students with internships in professional settings such as banks, hospitals, government, financial institutions and nonprofit organizations.

Interns in the Urban Alliance program.
Urban Alliance
Interns in the Urban Alliance program.

The Urban Alliance program is highly effective in providing youth with unique professional opportunities and the necessary supports to ensure success from high school to college and career. Their interns have higher high school graduation, college acceptance and college persistence rates. Game changers in the nonprofit sector, Urban Alliance has a 93% employer retention rate, has received $8 million in grants, contributions and contracts in 2015 and is the only nonprofit allocating 60% of their donations to intern wages.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama at a 2013 Urban Alliance event.
Urban Alliance
Former First Lady Michelle Obama at a 2013 Urban Alliance event.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama cited the importance of programs such as Urban Alliance at an event at Columbia College in Chicago:

“There should be programs like [Urban Alliance] in every corner of this country. We have the resources. We’ve got the leadership. We have the know-how. We have the model. So, now we have to ramp it up.”

Private U.S. employers spend an estimated $100 billion or more annually to provide on-the-job employee training, but institutional donors like the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Walmart Foundation, and JPMorgan Chase Foundation believe in the training and support Urban Alliance provides. Several Fortune 500 companies also partner with Urban Alliance, committing to provide only paid opportunities for their interns. This is important, considering 80% of the youth in the program contribute to their household and educational expenses. From a financial perspective, it is a no-brainer for these companies to hire Urban Alliance interns; doing so results in a lower cost-per-hire than hiring a new employee. Companies such as Walgreens, The Coca-Cola Company, Bank of America and Delta Airlines are creating a talent pipeline, leveraging the support of interns and providing junior level employees with their first management experience… all while fulfilling their corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Now Urban Alliance is taking their proven strategy one step further, via a partnership this upcoming school year with Baltimore City and Chicago public schools to improve current education and workforce challenges. It has been proven that early work experiences influence young people’s desire and ability to succeed. Youth who work during high school are more motivated, perform better in school, make connections between school work and future success, and have greater capacity for time management. Early employment also predicts future employment. Youth who do not work while in high school and do not enroll in post-secondary schools often face lower employment and earnings later in life.

Starting in November, Urban Alliance will support the ongoing core academics and character development components already taking place in schools throughout both cities. The Expanding Opportunities Now (EON) program is multifaceted: it will provide professional development, career readiness training, experiential learning opportunities, and wrap around support to public school students in grades 9 through 12. The curriculum and approach are both designed to help generation Z internalize the essential skills to successfully navigate today’s professional realm.

With a common vision to help young people achieve economic self-sufficiency by eliminating barriers and addressing the opportunity gap, there is a natural synergy between Urban Alliance and Baltimore City and Chicago public schools. This also means more students will be able to take advantage of Urban Alliance’s Impart Tracker Partnership with LinkedIn. In 2016, Urban Alliance was chosen by LinkedIn for Good to participate in the partnership to explore opportunities for integrating LinkedIn into youth career readiness, and ultimately use the platform to track youth outcomes.

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