Prepare for Takeoff

Innovative program creates opportunities for students while filling key talent needs for Valley companies

When Rosa Arroyo first learned about Year Up, she admits it sounded too good to be true. “My mom and sister went to a school fair and brought home a brochure about it,” she says. “At first, I was a little skeptical because, I thought, ‘A school that pays you to [attend]?’ ”

Not only is the education and career-building program the real deal, it’s creating opportunities for students like Arroyo to expand their options in high-growth industry fields such as computer programming, cybersecurity, IT help desks, and business operations. In partnership with Gateway Community College’s Central City campus, Year Up offers six months of technical and professional skills training. For their participation in the program, students receive an education stipend of up to $600 a month and can earn up to 30 college credits.

To increase interaction and accountability, students are put into small groups with a single leader, all traveling the year-long journey together. “Part of it is teaching the soft social skills—such as shaking hands, making eye contact, and advocating for yourself—which complements the formal education component,” says Kim Owens, founding executive director of Year Up Arizona.

After the first six months, students earn an internship, where they put those skills to work in a corporate environment in their area of interest, while still receiving ongoing support and guidance from Year Up.

“There’s an opportunity divide in our country with millions of young adults ages 18 to 24 who are motivated, but lack the access to jobs in the economic mainstream,” says Owens. “They might be in a low-income bracket and simply can’t afford to go to college, or they’re working to provide for their families. Meanwhile, companies have millions of jobs that go unfilled.”

Enter Year Up, which started in Boston in 2000 as a nonprofit organization to bridge that gap. Today, it has expanded to nearly 20 locations across the U.S. Arizona launched in 2015 to address a particularly acute need.

“In 2013, Phoenix ranked No. 23 out of 25 major metro areas in providing opportunities to young adults in our target age group,” Owens says. “Five years later, we’re the fastest-growing site in the country and, as of January 2020, we’ll be serving more than 1,000 students.”

To ensure a successful transition, Year Up focuses heavily on understanding their partner organizations’ needs. “The goal is to have a young adult be a good fit [for a business] and walk away with a job offer,” Owens explains. “And for the organization, to hire hardworking employees they can retain, as well as feel good about what they’re doing.”

In September, Year Up launched a pilot program at Mesa Executive Park, in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University. “It’s a competency-based program, so students get to finish at their pace,” says Owens, noting that community support has been a critical component of their success. “As a nonprofit, we rely heavily on our corporate [collaborators] such as National Bank of Arizona, who fund and support each young person who goes through the program.”

Julie-Ann Wilson, NB|AZ HR Programs and Projects Manager, says the bank sees the value in supporting local organizations that help prepare young adults gain professional experience, especially in a financial institution.

“It gives us, as an organization, the ability to impact the life of a student by opening doors of opportunity that might not have been available to them.”

Arroyo can testify that the reality has lived up to the promise since she graduated from Washington High School and started the Year Up program in January. In July, she started her internship at the National Bank of Arizona Cornerstone branch at 99th Avenue and Camelback Road in Phoenix, where she is a bank teller assisting customers with transactions and providing information for their financial needs.

“[Year Up] did a great job of placing me…it’s something new and something that I never thought I would do,” Arroyo says. “I appreciate the challenge and the opportunity to learn and be open to new things. My favorite part is getting to know all the customers day by day.”

Wilson is hopeful and excited for Arroyo’s future. “There are opportunities for Rosa in banking and I have seen her grow in such a short time with us. I see a bright future ahead for her,” she says.


Story: Jake Poinier

Photo: Mark Lipczynski

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