Interview with Year Up’s Jessica Harris

Every now and then an organization provides so much inspiration and hope for the future that it’s almost impossible not to write about them. This is the feeling I had as I walked the halls of Year Up’s headquarters in midtown Atlanta. Young Atlantans, dressed immaculately and smiling ear to ear are hungry to succeed and learn. This is Year Up — Atlanta’s premiere organization in training underserved young adults for the technical work place.

The following is an interview with Year Up’s Development Specialist, Jessica Harris.

Note: there is a meet and greet at the Atlanta Tech Village on July 31– hopefully you can attend! Details.

1. What’s the Year Up story and why should Atlantans pay attention to this organization?

We are wasting talent when we can’t afford to waste anyone. Millions of young adults in this country are facing social and economic injustice. Despite talent and motivation, they lack access to higher education and careers that provide them with a living wage. At the same time, our economy needs help. U.S. businesses are calling for more and better-trained talent to compete on the global stage, but there will not be enough skilled workers to meet that demand.

These are troubling realities, but they represent a tremendous national opportunity. Providing underserved young adults with the skills, knowledge and experience today’s businesses demand ensures those young adults will begin successful careers and earn a living wage. In return, employers gain access to a wider pipeline of well-trained talent than ever before —the talent they need to compete across the globe.

This is not charity, nor a handout. This is good sense.

In Atlanta, 1,100 underserved young adults applied for the 170 spots in our program—demonstrating the need for access to higher education and careers. Since 2008, we have over 300 graduates with 88% of securing employment or enrolled in school within four months of graduation.

2. What’s the value add Year Up provides to the Atlanta Startup Community?

At this very moment, there are thousands of unfilled, entry-level IT positions available in Atlanta. Despite high unemployment numbers, there simply aren’t enough skilled individuals to fill these positions.

Fortune 500 companies like Kaiser Permanente, The Weather Company, Vocalocity and others are partnering with Year Up and are overwhelmingly satisfied with the talent that Year Up provides them (90% satisfaction rate).

Year Up can provide the same value to the Atlanta Startup Community.

Year Up students leave our doors proficient in skills like IT Help Desk, Quality Assurance, Project Management and Customer Service. They perfect the professional soft skills that young college graduates often lack. Year Up Atlanta students also have the chance to earn 6 industry-recognized IT certifications and have the opportunity to earn up to 21 college credits through Atlanta Metropolitan State College.

The Atlanta Startup Community has the chance to add value to their businesses, while actively impacting Atlanta’s future IT workforce.

3. How can the Atlanta Startup Community embrace and help Year Up grow?

That’s an easy one! There are four ways to help:

  • Sponsor a Year Up intern: A huge part of our program is providing real-world experience to our young adults. Companies who need entry-level IT talent and want to help build a pipeline of talent for their company, are a great fit for Year Up.
  • Volunteer: There are many ways to help students achieve their professional goals! We have professionals join us as mentors, guest speakers and mock interviewers every six months.
  • Year Up Student Scholarship: Individuals and companies have the opportunity to invest in a scholarship for individual students, which helps cover the cost of students as they participate in Year Up
  • Spread the word: We no longer want to be the best kept secret in Atlanta! Sharing Year Up with businesses, media outlets or simply your network of friends is extremely helpful as we grow our impact on Atlanta’s workforce. Also, be sure to follow us on Facebook!

4. I noticed most of the Year Up students are always polite and smiling, what did y’all put in the water to make everyone so happy and pleasant?

Last year, we had 1,100 applicants for our 170 spots in the program. With so many young adults in need of the Year Up program, we diligently search for motivated young adults who simply need access to opportunity.

Like ATV, we are an organization of values. From staff to students to corporate partners, it’s incredibly important that we all live by these values, which include ideas like being accountable, building trust by being honest, engaging and embracing diversity, striving to learn, respecting and valuing others and working hard while having fun!

It’s through Year Up’s incredible staff, partners and volunteers that we are able to cultivate a corporate culture rooted in respect and hard work.

5. What’s one of the biggest success stories coming out of Year Up?

With over 300 graduates in Atlanta, with 43% of internship partners hiring our students on as employees after graduation, and with Year Up Atlanta graduates making $14/hour, on average, in full time positions, it’s hard to choose!

Jelissa is an individual example that shows the incredible transformation that is possible when personal drive is combined with technical skill. Jelissa graduated from Year Up in 2011. She is currently working at Quality Technology Services and serves on one of our local boards. Here’s how she describes her experience (also see attachment):

“Two years ago, I needed a place to live, a job, and an education. Back then, you would have seen a young lady with all the drive in the world, desperate for an opportunity to reach her full potential. Today, you’re looking at a Customer Service Representative at Quality Technology Services, a proud mother of two, former President of Year Up Atlanta’s alumni board, and current member of Year Up Atlanta’s Leadership Council. Had it not been for Year Up, I never would have learned how to balance personal challenges with professional achievements.

At Year Up, I have learned how to reach my goals and aspirations. I’m excited to further my IT engineering career and to become a chief executive office at a major corporation one day.”

Hopefully you can attend the Year Up Mixer on July 31st.

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