First Round of Pathways to Careers Fund Projects Announced!


Earlier this year, the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions launched the Pathways to Careers Fund to support employer-connected pathways for the most vulnerable youth in three of the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative Demonstration Cities(TM). The Pathways Fund is a mechanism for innovation that leverages an unprecedented commitment by the private sector to support opportunity youth. The Fund seeks to create partnerships between community-based organizations, workforce training providers, and employers that improve the preparation and employment outcomes for opportunity youth and create sustainable models for employers.

The Aspen Forum is excited to announce eight projects that resulted from the initial round of the Pathways Fund in Chicago/Cook County, New Orleans, and Seattle/King County. The grantees will implement a diverse range of innovative projects. Summaries of the funded projects are included below:

Chicago/Cook County

I. The Opportunity Youth Robotics Technician Training Program is a partnership between Safer Foundation and BSD Industries (a L3C social enterprise), designed to prepare and train justice-involved youth between the ages of 18-24 for advanced manufacturing jobs. Safer will provide assessments, job readiness training, case management support, job placement and retention support services; BSD will provide a boot camp (BOOST – contextualized bridging to ensure participants are prepared for training), and four levels of training in industry-recognized credentials, including Drafting (CAD), Electronics Technician (NOCTI), Certified Production Technician (MSSC), and Certified Robotics Production Technician (FANUC Programming). Exit ramps will allow students to earn a credential at each level and exit for work or other opportunities. During training, students will be offered on-the-job training in a plastics manufacturing plant. Upon completion, students will have the opportunity to be employed permanently in openings at BSD’s manufacturing plant or with other plastics manufacturers that Safer works with. Through the Opportunity Youth Robotics Technician Training Program, Safer will impact credential attainment, employment outcomes, earnings, and job retention, and ultimately, reduce justice involvement.

II. Skills for Chicagoland’s Future (“Skills”) will meet the hiring needs of committed employer partners by placing young adults into entry-level jobs with four (4) Beacon Employer Partners, including Walgreens, that are committed to advancing youth along defined pathways into middle-income careers through the “Pivot to Success” program model. Skills will utilize its deep employer relationships and will leverage this expertise to effectively create new employment pathways for young adults. Skills will assess both the business requirements per occupation and the needs of the youth candidates to determine the level and extent of supports needed. Skills will partner with proven youth providers in Chicago to prepare young adults for jobs and provide the necessary supports after placement, as well as coordinate investment from the employers  including program design, tuition reimbursement, designated mentors, and cohort experience facilitation – in ensuring success and upward mobility of youth hires. Finally, Skills will utilize its extensive and existing set of business relationships to engage appropriate additional companies in the program.

III. Youth Guidance and Sprint have partnered to increase access to employment opportunities for up to 60 opportunity youth. Participants will receive targeted support to overcome obstacles to employment, explore career opportunities, and develop job skills. Upon completion of training, youth will receive job placement assistance and retention support. For participants interested in retail careers, Sprint will provide targeted skill training and orientation to opportunities at the company. Qualified applicants will have an opportunity to interview. This progressive career pathway will increase youth’s employability skills and provide access to mid-skill career opportunities that provide strong opportunities for advancement. As an employer, Sprint will benefit from an increased pool of qualified candidates and improved employee retention.

IV. Youth Job Center’s (YJC) Retail/Customer Service Career Pathways is an intensive program building upon the foundations of Gap Inc.’s This Way Ahead program. YJC offers intensive skills development and sustained support for Opportunity Youth (OY) before, during and after job placement. Rather than structuring programs on a linear path, YJC has constructed a support process that includes revisiting issues and building on youth’s successful development of skills or knowledge in their work and career development; it is this sustained support to address challenges that sets the program apart from other career pathways programs.

Employer partnership is critical to the success of the Retail/Customer Service Career Pathway; YJC will work closely with employers, including Gap Inc., Starbucks Coffee Company, and Supreme Auto Repair, to design, develop and implement the training content and delivery, to engage youth, build essential skills and reach successful outcomes for both participants and employers. YJC’s sustained support in Career Pathways programs reduces the fall off risks across the many transitions from job seeking to job stability.

New Orleans

V. While serving 200 youth over two years in employability training and job placement, Liberty’s Kitchen will pilot a new Career Track program with three model partner employers to assist 15 motivated Liberty’s Kitchen graduates to get hired, retain employment for a year or more, and take meaningful steps toward promotion and wage growth. This pilot will result in a documented model pathway from youth unemployment to one-year job retention and a projected path from one-year retention to a management position within partner companies.

The model is being co-designed by Liberty’s Kitchen with three model employers: Ace Hotel New Orleans, The Ruby Slipper Cafe, and City Greens. The model will intentionally integrate one-on-one coaching, career advancement planning, employer mentorship, and collaboration on upskilling and remediation to scaffold longer job retention and accelerated career advancement. Throughout the project Liberty’s Kitchen will coordinate structured convenings, summits, and check-ins with employer partners and Career Track participants to maintain positive momentum and continually strengthen the pilot intervention.

VI. The Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) and the Link Restaurant Group (LRG) will pilot an innovative career pathway partnership that will provide opportunity youth ages 18-24 with soft skills, training, and work experience in multiple aspects of the hospitality industry including direct customer service, event planning, sales and administration. Participants referred from YEP will receive extensive training and wraparound social supports before and during their six-week externships with LRG, in which they will earn stipends and gain experience working alongside the staff of some of New Orleans’ most popular local restaurants.

Seattle/King County

VII. The Accelerator YMCA of Greater Seattle, in partnership with Chipotle Mexican Grill, will support pathways for opportunity youth (OY) ages 16-25 to become work-ready and successfully transition to employment as well as help those who are already working to persist and advance within their career. The project aims to bridge the gap between employment and stability among opportunity youth and young adults by building tangible life assets such as stable housing and employment, access to higher education, soft skills, and social/emotional development for upward mobility. The Accelerator YMCA’s strategy is to strengthen existing programs and support local employers who are at the forefront of this effort. The Accelerator YMCA will provide case management support to 30 existing Chipotle employees to maintain employment as well as access educational trainings and work towards advancement. In addition, Chipotle Mexican Grill will interview and/or hire 80 new opportunity youth candidates who have the support of a YMCA case manager.

VIII. Year Up Puget Sound, Bellevue College, and T-Mobile, will serve a cohort of young adults during summer 2017 through an innovative partnership that opens a wide range of doors for opportunity youth, and would serve as a model for a similar program locally in 2018, and be replicable for other markets and other retail employers. As a result of this partnership, young adults will have intensive professional skills training, six weeks of paid technology retail experience, and the opportunity to earn education-friendly employment with T-Mobile, coursework towards a degree at Bellevue College, and/or participation in Year Up’s traditional one-year program. Interns will gain the skill set required to attain employment with other retail employers, as well. As with Year Up’s traditional one-year program, this partnership will help T-Mobile recruit, train, employ, and retain a diverse workforce interested in continued growth through education and professional development. Interns will serve as a proof point for hiring managers that opportunity youth, presented with a pathway and training, will succeed in technology-related retail roles.

The Pathways to Careers Fund projects awarded to date have been made possible by the generous support of our partners, including: The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The McCormick Foundation, The Seattle Foundation, The United Way of King County, and the Walmart Foundation. We look forward to continuing to announce new funder partnerships as we expand the work in Maricopa County, the greater Los Angeles area, and in the second year across all of the sites.