Sector-specific job training: Charlotte, NC
Industry-specific career training: Sector-specific training programs typically prepare young adults (roughly 18-30 years old) for in-demand careers with high income potential. Many specialize in rapidly growing fields like IT, green technology, and financial services, while others are tailored to meet community needs in undersupplied fields, like construction, manufacturing, and nursing. Most programs offer a combination of coursework, soft-skills training, and professional experience (in the form of an apprenticeship, internship, or job placement service). Training programs vary significantly in length; some may run for 8 weeks, while others are a full year.
Developing participants’ soft skills: Programs often provide participants with training in non-technical skills required for employment, like conflict resolution, time management, and critical thinking. Having these soft skills can improve participants’ employment prospects and their ability to navigate the workplace.
Low or no cost to students: Programs are typically offered at no or a low cost, with public investment, private donations, and subsidies from partner-employers covering student costs. Many programs require a formal application process and can be selective depending on enrollment capacity; criteria may include age, having a high school diploma, and the ability to make a full-time commitment to the program.
Earning industry-recognized credentials: Upon completion of sector-skill training programs such as registered apprenticeships, participants often receive specialized credentials. In some cases, this may include a required certificate or license to operate within a certain field; in less regulated fields like data analytics or project management, the credential may serve as a recognized symbol of competency.
Supplemental supports to address barriers: Some programs include additional supports and services designed to help participants overcome structural barriers to employment. These can include weekly transit stipends, communal closets for business clothing, and generalized professional development (i.e. resume writing, interviewing, etc.).
Sector-specific training programs have been evaluated by multiple RCTs and a comprehensive meta-analysis. Results from evidence-based programs have consistently shown statistically significant increases in employment and earnings for program participants.
A 2022 research synthesis found that sector-specific employment programs lead to substantial increases in earnings, training and career services received, and attainment of occupational credentials and certificates.
A 2021 meta-analysis of sector-skill training found that the career pathways approach is associated with improved educational, employment, and short-term earnings outcomes.
A 2012 longitudinal study of registered apprenticeships in 10 states found that participants had employment rates 8.6 percentage points higher after both six and nine years than non-participants, while average earnings were $6,595 after six years, and $5,839 higher after nine years.
Results and accomplishments
A 7-year impact evaluation of Year Up found that participants earned, on average, 28% ($1,895) more per quarter than a control group. Effects persisted throughout the seven-year period.
As of November 2021, 85 percent of all Year Up Charlotte alumni were in full-time, training-aligned roles, with another 5 percent enrolled in school.
The average starting salary for Year Up Charlotte participants is $25.50/hour or $53,040/year. Prior to enrollment, more than half of Year Up Charlotte participants reported that they earned less than $25,000 per year.
As of November 2021, Year Up Charlotte has placed 165 participants into internships, including 125 with Bank of America and 40 with other major corporations, including JP Morgan Chase & Co, Merck, and Wells Fargo & Company.
- Year Up’s largest founding cohort: Year Up Charlotte enrolled 50 students in its first cohort in 2019 -- the largest in Year Up’s two decades of operation. All students in that cohort interned at Bank of America, and 70 percent secured full-time employment there after the program concluded (10 percent continued their education). Through Fall 2021, Year Up Charlotte has served more than 300 young adults, with 125 interning at Bank of America.
- Raising earning potential for participants: Alumni of Year Up Charlotte earn an average starting salary of $53,040. More than half of those graduates were earning $25,000 or less prior to enrollment, meaning that Year Up helped many students double their incomes in the short term while also significantly increasing their earning potential over the long term.
- Launching an accelerated program: After two years of building out its Charlotte site, Year Up launched an accelerated program for young adults with some previous technical experience in Java programming, cyber security, or business. Instead of six months of coursework, the accelerated program provides a cohort of 18-29 year olds with an 8-week training course before starting Year Up’s standard 6-month corporate internship. The first cohort had 8 participants, and has grown each cycle since. The program’s current target is 30 students per cohort.
- Recognition for outstanding collaboration: In January 2021, the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges honored Central Piedmont Community College with its Distinguished Partners in Excellence award for its work alongside Year Up and Bank of America. The honor recognized the partners’ successful launch and scaling of the Year Up model while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, including conducting classwork and internships remotely.
In 2014, researchers at Opportunity Insights published a study on intergenerational mobility in America’s 50 largest cities. Charlotte ranked last - the study found that a child born in Charlotte to a family with an income in the bottom quintile had only a 4.4 percent chance of reaching the top quintile in their lifetime.
In response, local government and civic leaders launched the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force in 2015. The Task Force called for investments in internships and career-connected pathways through post-secondary education. To help meet that need, Year Up, a Boston-based nonprofit, expanded to Charlotte in 2019. The Year Up program operates tuition-free and provides its mostly low-income participants with six months of sector-specific technical coursework followed by a six-month internship, with the goal of transitioning them into full-time roles.
Keys to the program’s success included strong support among local leaders for investments in interventions to boost economic mobility; a community college partner committed to strengthening the coursework offered through the program; a strong network of employers offering high-quality internships; an inclusive and holistic approach to recruitment and admissions; and building a local Year Up team with strong connections to young adults in Charlotte, which allowed it to enroll a large first cohort.
Challenges faced by the program included meeting strong demand from employers and securing year-long commitments from students.
What was the challenge?
- Charlotte ranked last in upward mobility: In 2014, a team of Harvard and UC-Berkeley researchers, led by Dr. Raj Chetty, published a major study on intergenerational mobility in America’s 50 largest cities. Charlotte ranked last. The study found that the probability of a child born in Charlotte to a family with an income in the bottom quintile had a 4.4 percent chance of reaching the top quintile of national income distribution in their lifetime.
- A “wake-up call” for Charlotte-Mecklenburg: The Chetty study spurred a strong response from local leaders across sectors, from government to higher education to the finance industry, which has a significant presence in the area. As a first step, Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller worked with civic leaders to create the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force. The group included private sector leaders (including from Bank of America), educators (including from Central Piedmont Community College), nonprofit and faith-based leaders, and local government representatives.
- Prioritizing career pathways to upward mobility: The Opportunity Task Force spent 18 months in 2015 and 2016 developing concrete policy solutions and interventions to address the factors the Chetty study identified as strongly correlated with intergenerational mobility, including college and career preparedness. The Task Force zeroed in on two strategies to prioritize immediately: building career-connected pathways through post-secondary education and investing in internships, especially for youth who were not in school or working
- Connecting talent and opportunity: The reality highlighted by the Chetty Report and the solutions identified by the Task Force matched the needs of both sides of the labor market in Charlotte. The area had a large supply of jobs, half of which were “middle-skill,” meaning they required specialized, post-secondary training, but not necessarily a college degree. Despite the ample supply of jobs, employers reported a persistent dearth of talent: just over 40 percent of the workforce met middle-skill job criteria. With thousands of residents searching for high-quality employment, Charlotte leaders zeroed in on filling a clear gap in the area: upskilling young workers with low incomes.
What was the solution?
- Free technical training and career support: Year Up operates a tuition-free program that provides six months of market-specific technical coursework followed by a six-month internship, with the goal of transitioning into full-time roles. In Charlotte, where most partner companies are large banks or tech companies, Year Up offers tracks in software development, cyber security, and project management. The average Year Up Charlotte student is 21 years old, and more than half identify as low-income. Year Up Charlotte admits roughly three quarters of applicants.
- Delivering coursework through a community partner: Year Up Charlotte partners with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) to deliver its class sequence, which takes 6 months (the Learning and Development Phase). CPCC professors teach Year Up courses, for which students also earn school credit. Participating employers help to design the curriculum, and, in some cases, may help teach classes on job-specific tools (such as on project management software used at Bank of America). During this time, students receive a weekly stipend of $50.
- Placing students in internships: After the six months of coursework, Year Up places each internship-ready student into a track-specific, six-month internship with a partner company (i.e. a project management student will be placed in a project management role at Bank of America). Students receive a weekly stipend of $150 to help cover expenses like transportation and food. Employers’ payments help cover the cost of each interns’ coursework and stipend. Year Up Charlotte places students in internships at companies including: AvidXchange, Bank of America, Capgemini, Compass Digital Labs, JPMorgan Chase, LendingTree, Lowes Home Improvement, LPL Financial, Okta, and Wells Fargo & Company.
- Career development and support services: As the program nears its conclusion, Year Up works with students and employers to convert internships into full-time roles. These services are delivered through Year Up’s in-house talent placement agency, YUPRO (alumni retain access to YUPRO and the National Year Up Alumni Association for life). YUPRO also helps participants connect with social services and other supports as needed.
- A strong match between city and program operator: As Year Up looked to expand its model in 2015, the Chetty report and the Opportunity Task Force signaled that Charlotte had a demonstrated need for its program. With enthusiastic commitments from a corporate partner (Bank of America) and education partner (Central Piedmont Community College), Year Up selected Charlotte as its newest site.
What factors drove success?
- Building on local leaders’ momentum: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force cultivated strong alignment among local leaders to prioritize investments in economic mobility interventions. Key leaders included those in city and county governments, higher education, and within the local business and philanthropic communities. With city and county executives vocally supporting the collaborative, partner-focused approach, which continues today in the form of the nonprofit Leading on Opportunity, the Charlotte area positioned itself as an especially strong market for Year Up’s evidence-based program.
- A committed education partner: Since Year Up first considered Charlotte as a site, Central Piedmont Community College has been an enthusiastic partner, starting with school president Dr. Kandi Deitmeyer. CPCC has provided instructors to teach classes, worked with Year Up to tailor its curriculum to program needs, and contributed significant recruiting support, including emails, tables at program fairs, and a speaking slot at orientation.
- A strong network of employers: Year Up was drawn to Charlotte in large part due to a commitment from Bank of America to offer internships at its corporate headquarters. With Bank of America hiring 70 percent of its first cohort of interns into full-time roles, other major employers in the area quickly approached Year Up for partnerships. This is especially crucial to the Year Up model, since partner companies cover a significant portion of the costs of student coursework and stipends.
- Filtering students in, not out: With employer demand for Year Up interns continuing to increase, Year Up Charlotte has invested heavily in its recruitment efforts, primarily through marketing campaigns and events in partnership with Central Piedmont. To further build out its student pipeline, Year Up Charlotte takes an inclusive and holistic approach to recruiting and admissions. For instance, grades are only a small part of the application process, while an hour-long interview takes on added importance in many cases. Additionally, Year Up Charlotte uses the application process to inform students about wraparound services, such as stipends for childcare and transportation.
- Building a team with deep local knowledge: Year Up prioritized hiring staff with established networks in Charlotte, especially among young adults. For instance, as one of its first hires, Year Up Charlotte brought on an admissions specialist from Central Piedmont and a recruiter who had strong relationships with area school districts and churches. Year Up’s central office in Boston, meanwhile, manages the bulk of employer relations. By building a team with strong connections to networks of local young adults, Year Up Charlotte was able to enroll a program-record 50 students in its first cohort.
What were the major obstacles?
- Meeting employer demand: After two years of preparing young adults for corporate internships and careers, existing partner companies in Charlotte have asked Year Up for significantly more interns than the program can recruit given its current staff capacity. Demand in Charlotte for Year Up interns has grown so rapidly that the program is forced to turn away some new employers interested in partnering. As a result, Year Up Charlotte is working to expand its recruiting efforts and has launched the accelerated program.
- Securing year-long commitments from students: As fast food restaurants and retailers increase their wages (in some cases, up to $20/hour), Year Up has faced a shortage of students willing to commit to the full-year program. Some young adults in the area report that they prefer to earn relatively high wages in the short term, rather than forgoing such wages for 12 months of career development with Year Up.
A tech entrepreneur, Gerald Chertavian, had volunteered for years with Big Brothers Big Sisters. He recognizes a gap in workforce development offerings for young adults from low-income families, especially in careers with significant potential for upward mobility. To address this, he launches Year Up in Boston. Today, Year Up operates in 19 markets across the country and has served more than 36,000 students.
Throughout its history, Year Up has prioritized rigorous program evaluation through randomized control trials. This includes a 2011 analysis conducted by the Economic Mobility Corporation, which showed that Year Up helped students increase their annual incomes by 30 percent in a year. PACE conducted another study starting in 2011, with reports published in 2018 and 2021 showing a 30-40 percent increase in earnings four years after graduation; another update to the PACE study is expected later in 2022.
A major study, led by Harvard researcher Dr. Raj Chetty, ranks Charlotte last in the nation in intergenerational mobility. Among its findings, the study shows that a child born into a low-income Charlotte family earned an average of $26,000 per year, roughly equal to the federal poverty line. The study prompts civic leaders in Charlotte to urgently look for solutions.
As part of the area’s response to the Chetty report, local leaders, including corporate executives, educators, clergy, and government officials, come together to identify specific strategies and priorities to improve upward mobility in Charlotte. Over the next 18 months, the Opportunity Task Force determines that the community must create more pathways connecting post-secondary students to high-quality jobs.
With longtime partner Bank of America headquartered in Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College expressing strong interest in hosting the program, Year Up launches in Charlotte. The program’s first cohort is Year Up’s largest inaugural class ever, with 50 students.
After the first Year Up class in Charlotte completes its 6-month corporate internship program with Bank of America, the company hires 35 students into full-time roles. The students’ success at corporate headquarters inspires Bank of America to commit to hiring 500 more Year Up alumni across the country.
The North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges honors Year Up, Central Piedmont, and Bank of America for their partnership, noting their collaboration in supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic. With 58 community colleges in North Carolina, the state’s authorizing agency points to Year Up Charlotte as an exemplary workforce development program.
After Bank of America reports an overwhelmingly positive experience with Year Up Charlotte’s first cohort, a range of major companies in the area approach Year Up about hosting interns. With the surge in demand, Year Up adds 9 new partner companies, including major banks like Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase, along with tech companies including Okta and Compass Digital Labs.
Local staff begin searching for new student pipelines to fill the rapidly growing demand for Year Up interns among corporate partners in Charlotte. They identify that some students already had technical experience and could be ready for the corporate internship half of Year Up without a full course load. Year Up thus launches the 8-week accelerated program for 8 students, with plans to grow to 30 per cohort in 2022.
A study sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families showed that earnings gains for Year Up participants persisted seven years after beginning the randomized control trial. In the seventh year, participants earned an average of $8,251 more than members of the study's control group.
How did leaders confront the problem?
- Chetty study underscores barriers to intergenerational mobility in Charlotte: The landmark study from Harvard and UC-Berkely, “Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States,” showed that Charlotte was last among America’s 50 largest metros in upward mobility. The analysis, which generated considerable media coverage both locally and nationally, revealed that those born into poverty in Charlotte have a less-than 5-percent chance of reaching the top fifth of earners in the country.
- A mismatch between talent pipeline and opportunities: As a growing finance and tech hub, Charlotte had a large number of “middle-skill” jobs requiring some post-secondary credentials and/or technical training, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree. Yet just four in ten residents had the appropriate credentials. At the same time, thousands of young adults in Charlotte sought to increase their wages through high-quality jobs, but had few proven training options available.
- Mobilizing civic leaders: In the wake of the Chetty report, local government and civic leaders launched the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force. The group, a multidisciplinary collection of educators, corporate executives, clergy, and others, was tasked with identifying concrete proposals to increase upward mobility. They wrote, “Our community has learned – and relearned – a hard truth that has been difficult for some to accept: access to economic opportunity in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is far too often aligned with the zip code where one lives.”
- Prioritizing investment in upskilling opportunities: The Opportunity Task Force spent 18 months developing a series of recommendations for community investment. Among its priorities were upskilling opportunities for young adults through career-focused internships and enhanced post-secondary education opportunities.
- Meeting Charlotte’s job training needs: Year Up, a national organization evaluating new markets for expansion, closely analyzed the Chetty report. Through its existing relationship with Bank of America, Year Up began to engage with key stakeholders in Charlotte, including senior leaders at Central Piedmont Community College. Through this engagement and analysis, Year Up selected Charlotte as its next expansion site.
How was the strategy designed?
- Free career training and internship placement: To provide students with both specialized skills training and hands-on experience, Year Up is split into two six-month phases. In the first six months, the Learning and Development Phase, Year Up students take classes at Central Piedmont Community College. Year Up then places students in six-month internships with a corporate partner, with the goal of eventually converting that internship into a full-time position. The program is offered at no cost to students, with Pell Grants and other scholarships covering tuition and fees.
- Serving a wide range of students: In an effort to close the opportunity gap while ensuring each member of a cohort can succeed in the intensive program environment, students go through a formal application process to be admitted. Eligibility criteria includes a high school degree, identifying as low- or moderate-income, being between 18-26 years old, and living within driving distance of CPCC. The application process includes an interview and a holistic review of the candidate’s professional and academic experience. Year Up Charlotte admits roughly three quarters of applicants.
- Career-specific learning and development: To help students attain specialized career skills, Year Up offers field-specific coursework for six months, which varies depending on local employer needs. In Charlotte, Year Up offers class sequences in software development, cyber security, and project management. The courses are delivered at Central Piedmont Community College. During this period, participants receive a $50 weekly stipend.
- Career counseling and wraparound services: To best position students to secure high-quality, full-time employment, ideally with their corporate internship host, Year Up provides job search support, including interview prep and resume writing. As the program concludes, Year Up provides participants with job search support through its in-house talent placement agency, YUPRO (alumni retain access to YUPRO and the National Year Up Alumni Association for life). In the months surrounding program completion, Year Up prioritizes helping students convert their internships into full-time roles. Year Up also employs social workers, who help students connect to social services as needed.
- Earning a certificate, with a pathway to a degree: To ensure graduates have formal credentials they can use to demonstrate technical expertise, Year Up provides students with a certificate. While tailored to program participant needs, Year Up classes are open to all Central Piedmont students. Year Up participants, meanwhile, earn credit toward an associate’s degree at CPCC.
How was the approach funded?
- Start-up costs to launch the program: Year Up set a $4-million target in Charlotte for launch capital to cover start-up costs, such as office space and staff. It secured that funding through private donations, including from Bank of America, the Duke Endowment, and the John M. Belk Endowment.
- Funding student learning and stipends: Year Up Charlotte generates roughly three quarters of its revenue from fee-for-service agreements with its corporate partners. These fees cover the costs of each student’s coursework, along with weekly stipends ($50/week during the first half, and $150/week during the second half). Year Up Charlotte receives roughly a quarter of its revenue through private donations, which cover overhead and scaling efforts (such as launching the accelerated program). Year Up Charlotte projects that if it chooses to stop growing, the fee-for-service agreements will cover program expenses in full.
- Limited public funding: The Charlotte site has received no public investment at the local level. Nationally, Year Up receives less than 2 percent of its revenue from federal grants. With an average cost of $28,290 per student for the 12-month program across the country, nearly 60 percent of Year Up costs are covered by employers, who benefit from intern labor; the remaining costs are covered by grants and private donations.
- Conducting randomized control trials: Year Up combines philanthropic dollars and federal grants to support program evaluation. As a national organization, Year Up spends roughly $1.1 million per year on evaluation, including staff and internal administrative costs (in addition to varying sizes of project-specific investments for long-term evaluations).
How was the plan implemented?
- Securing partnership commitments: To launch the new Year Up site in Charlotte, the organization needed two partners: an educational partner to deliver classes and a corporate partner to host internships. Bank of America, a longtime Year Up partner in other markets, encouraged the organization to launch in Charlotte, where it could place students in internships at its corporate headquarters. With the employer commitment in place, Year Up’s leadership met and quickly secured an enthusiastic commitment from leaders at Central Piedmont Community College, who recognized the mutual benefits of shared recruiting and market-specific career development programming.
- Staffing up the local office: With commitments in place from an employer and a college, Year Up first hired Elise Ford, a longtime central office staff member, as its site director in Charlotte. She then built out her team, prioritizing admissions and recruitment staff with extensive experience in the Charlotte area. Year Up’s Charlotte offices are located at Central Piedmont.
- Developing a market-specific curriculum: As it prepared for launch, Year Up Charlotte convened Bank of America staff members and Central Piedmont professors to select value-add tracks and tailor coursework appropriately, including identifying specific software and programming languages. The partners launched three tracks, with courses taught by Central Piedmont professors and open to all CPCC students: project management, software development, and cyber security.
- Recruiting students: Year Up and Central Piedmont collaborated closely on student recruiting and enrollment efforts. For instance, Central Piedmont admissions staff encouraged Year Up recruiters to join them on visits to high schools, offered shared table space at activity fairs, and provided a speaking slot at orientation. Central Piedmont also facilitated information sessions for Year Up, and encouraged high school students, teachers, and career development coaches to attend, which helped to familiarize them with the new program. This approach yielded the largest starting cohort in Year Up’s two decades of operation -- 50 students. Year Up, meanwhile, referred a significant number of program applicants who were unenrolled at CPCC to the college’s admissions team.
- Adding partner companies: After 70 percent of the first cohort secured full-time jobs with Bank of America, several other major companies with a large presence in Charlotte approached Year Up about participating in the program, including JP Morgan Chase, Okta, and Wells Fargo. The program continues to solicit input from partner companies on curriculum design.
How was the approach measured and refined?
- Program evaluation as a core operation: As part of its central mission, Year Up prioritizes investing in rigorous evaluation of its programs. Since 2007, Year Up has completed dozens of studies on its programs, including four different randomized controlled trials with leading evaluation firms like Economic Mobility Corporation and Abt Associates. These robust studies test the effectiveness of its model and identify areas for improvement. Year Up also employs six internal evaluators and data scientists to help conduct scientific studies and refine Year Up’s curriculum and business operations. This internal team regularly engages with experts from major research firms and universities to help inform organizational decision-making.
- Surveying students and alumni: Year Up’s central office research team works with each program site to administer several surveys throughout the year. These measure several outcomes, such as satisfaction among enrolled students (satisfaction rates typically hover around 90 percent). The team also conducted a survey in partnership with ICT International in 2016 to track alumni outcomes across sites, which include a 93-percent satisfaction rate, a 75-percent full-time employment rate, and an average income of $22/hour.
- Adding an accelerated program in Charlotte: To serve more experienced students and to meet employer demand, Year Up Charlotte recently launched an accelerated program, which serves a wider age range (18-29) and requires some previous coursework in Java programming, cyber security, or business. Instead of the full six month of classes, the accelerated program provides eight weeks of coursework followed by the full six-month corporate internship.
- Expanding program eligibility during COVID: With demand for Year Up interns rising just as the COVID pandemic struck, the program extended its age range for eligible applicants up from 18-24 years old to 26 years old.
- Measuring long-term effects: A May 2022 report on Year Up's long-term impacts found that the program increased participants' earnings by an average of 28%, and that effects persisted throughout the seven-year follow-up period. The research showed that the increased earnings were associated with increases in household and personal income and decreases in housing insecurity, debt, and public benefit receipt.
Results for America would like to thank the following individuals for their help in completing this case study: Garrett Warfield, Elise Ford, Betsy Goddell, and Jaclyn Lenez of Year Up; and Darrien Page of Central Piedmont Community College.
This case study was written by Gavriel Remz and Ross Tilchin.