Training Youths in the Ways of the Workplace - NYTimes.com
Year Up, a nonprofit, was founded by Gerald Chertavian, a social entrepreneur who started his career on Wall Street before building a technology firm that he and his partners sold for $83 million. When he was a college freshman, Chertavian began volunteering as a mentor and Big Brother to low-income youths. He did this for decades. He was impressed by the ambition and talents of the young people he got to know. But he saw that they had little scope to “plug in” to the mainstream economy. It wasn’t just that some had attended poor schools or lacked college credentials; they lacked exposures to the “professional culture” — and this, as much as any skill gap, kept them marginalized.
But none of the above fully explains Year Up’s success. The real difference is that Year Up takes great care to prepare its students to succeed in a professional culture. “We often talk about hard and soft skills,” says Chertavian. “To me, it’s actually hard and harder skills.” The merely hard skills are things that many training programs cover — for IT, it might be using software applications or installing hardware. The harder skills are more nuanced. They involve questions like: Do you know how to communicate in a team? If you’re running late, do you know to call ahead? If you don’t have enough work, do you know to be proactive and ask for more? Do you know how to write a professional sounding e-mail?
Chertavian points out that the social signals new employees send can make all the difference. “It’s how you make eye contact, it’s how you dress, it’s how you shake hands, it’s how you make small talk at a Christmas Party,” he says. “It’s when we speak, are you nodding your head? Are you leaning in and asking questions? It’s knowing how to introduce yourself. It’s knowing what’s appropriate for conversation. All of those things are learned. If you don’t have that context, boy, it feels real foreign to go through the security gate at Fidelity and exist in that environment.”