Shrinking the skills gap for unemployed young adults | KALW

Shrinking the skills gap for unemployed young adults

Aug 15, 2012

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. One organization thinks it’s found a solution to the skills gap problem. It’s helping young people who have a high school diploma or GED find jobs in growing sectors of the economy like technology and high finance.

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.

“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,” says Scales.

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.

Zynga’s portfolio of insanely popular games includes Words With Friends and CityVille, which is the project that Scales works on doing Quality Assurance, or QA.

“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,’ says Scales, laughing.

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. 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.

“We help young adults learn skills in fields we think will be expanding as the economy moves forward,” explains Gerald Chertavian, founder of Year Up.

Year Up trains low income 18- to 25-year-olds in nine cities across the U.S. to work in corporate America. The second half of the year long program is a paid internship at companies like JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Google. 

“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?’” says Chertavian.

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 emails, 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.

“I feel uncomfortable now wearing jeans,” jokes, 25 year-old Christian Ramos, 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 technician. 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 lost his phone.

“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,” says Ramos.

Ramos has impressed his bosses. They’ve offered him a job once he completes his Year Up internship next month. He says he is loosening up in order to fit into the work hard, play hard culture at LinkedIn. When he transitions to full time, Ramos plans on losing the tie.

This story was produced by Youth Radio’s New Options Desk, which reports on how young adults can get work. Click the player about to hear the audio story.