Connecting talent with opportunity

Year Up participants at Northern Virginia Community College celebrate their success. (Photos: NOVA)

While visiting one of our Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) campuses this week for a student forum, I was thrilled when waiting to greet me in the back of the room was an amazing student success story.

Darwin Vanegas came to NOVA as a foster youth with the help of unique counseling support our college provides to low-income students in high school. He soon discovered our partnership with Year Up, a nonprofit organization that connects young adults who need opportunity, with companies who need their talent. Darwin leveraged his studies at NOVA with the guidance he received from the Year Up program, to gain leadership skills and an entry point into Virginia’s thriving tech sector.

Editor’s note: This article comes from the current issue of the Community College Journal, which the American Association of Community Colleges has published since 1930.

Today with a meaningful corporate internship experience through Year Up, and a term as the student representative on NOVA’s College Board, he is on track to graduate this semester with a cybersecurity degree and has planned his transfer path to a major university.

Darwin is a success because of his grit and tenacity and the combined opportunities made available to him. He is not a NOVA success story. He is not a Year Up success story. He is our success story.

Meeting students’, employers’ needs

Even while the unemployment rate reaches a record low, millions of young adults like Darwin between the ages of 18 and 24 lack not only the credentials to access meaningful careers in growing industries, but the wherewithal to find the paths to those meaningful opportunities. They are out of work and out of school, or underemployed in minimum-wage jobs. At the same time, companies are increasingly struggling to find qualified talent amid a tightening labor market.

In fall 2015, NOVA decided to partner with Year Up National Capital Region (Year Up NCR) to provide young adults in Northern Virginia with a proven approach toward workforce development. The provost at our Woodbridge campus was a strong early adopter of the Year Up program and saw that NOVA and Year Up’s values and goals for the community were in complete alignment: both worked to support young people as they became reengaged in their careers and education.

The first class of 40 students was a big success: 100 percent were employed and/or attending college full time within four months of completing the yearlong program, with average starting salaries of $46,675 per year.

This is the first Year Up workforce program that NOVA has worked with in the National Capital Region, and it’s been extremely rewarding. In fact, in 2018 we served four times as many students – and we will continue to expand the program by adding a second Year Up location at NOVA in 2019.

Year Up participants receive the tools and support to help them succeed.

As college students, these young adults have access to the library, tutoring resources and other services offered by NOVA, in addition to the services offered by Year Up. Students work toward completing a degree at NOVA Woodbridge, while Year Up NCR provides them with professional development and work experience, preparing graduates to launch a career in a high-growth industry. The track specialties at this campus are cybersecurity, business fundamentals and helpdesk/desktop support. Year Up and NOVA work closely with local companies when developing the program curriculum to make sure students are gaining in-demand technical and professional skills as they work towards a degree.

Increasing job prospects, earnings

Our students face many challenges, but NOVA and Year Up provide them with the tools and support to ensure their success.  More than 70 percent of program participants are new or re-engaged students. They earn weekly stipends throughout the year, and participate in a full-time, semester-long internship at a top company to gain valuable work experience. The program also is free for students, with funding provided by the corporate partners who use Year Up NCR as a pipeline of skilled, diverse talent.

Our students serve as Splunk Analysts, Operations Interns and IT Specialists at companies including Capital One, Fannie Mae and Accenture Federal. After the internship ends, 45 percent of students are hired by their host company.

Read the current issue of Community College Journal online.

Year Up has an unprecedented impact on the lives of young adults. A recent federally-sponsored evaluation of the nationwide program showed a 53-percent increase in initial earnings for young adults randomly assigned to Year Up compared with similar young adults in a control group — the largest impacts on earnings reported to date for a workforce program tested in a randomized controlled trial.  And employed Year Up group members earned nearly $4 more per hour than employed control group members, and were substantially more likely to be working in IT, business and financial occupations.

By partnering with Year Up, NOVA is giving students a proven pathway to meaningful careers in one of the most concentrated technology employment markets in the country.

After the success of our program in Woodbridge, we invited Year Up to launch an additional site at our campus in Alexandria, the next step in our strategic partnership in what we hope to be an ever deepening and impactful collaboration.

We do all of this because deserving students like Darwin need the opportunities made possible by our partnership. And our employers and our region need more Darwins.

About the Author

Scott Ralls
is president of Northern Virginia Community College.