Youth jobs program helping Fortune 500 companies

AMEX Chairman Ken Chenault calls “Year Up” jobs program for disadvantaged youth a win for inner city and for companies like his

Preview: Help Wanted 01:20

It’s not often companies can do well by doing good. But that’s just what American Express did by hiring disadvantaged youth trained in a program called Year Up. Ken Chenault, chairman/CEO of American Express, says the program helped his company, helped the urban community and the students from it. Chenault is featured in Morley Safer’s story about Year Up, a program that has trained thousands of disadvantaged students for internships that often lead to corporate jobs thought to be out of their reach.  Safer’s story will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

 “It’s a win for the urban communities, it’s a win for the students and it’s a win for our company,” says Chenault, whose company is just one of the many Fortune 500 firms that have used Year Up. “We would not be doing this unless these students were active contributors as employees and they more than pull their weight,” he tells Safer. Another satisfied company is J.P. Morgan Chase. Company Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon says, Year Up is helping his company and the program is being done the right way. “I think it’s important that programs like this have an end goal that’s enlightened, it’s not just philanthropy. If it’s just philanthropy they tend to fall apart over time.”

 They can pull their weight because the first six months of Year Up are designed to teach them two of the most needed skills in today’s corporate world: financial operations and computer technology. “We look for areas that pay livable wages where there’s growing demand,” says Gerald Chertavian, the founder of “Year Up.”  The students must be high school graduates or have GEDs and are heavily screened for their backgrounds and their dedication to getting ahead.  Those accepted earn college credit and a small stipend of a few hundred dollars a week – money that can be docked if they are late or incur any other infractions of the rules. They are trained in the social skills needed to get and hold jobs, including good handshakes, proper dress and networking.

After the six months, they earn a six-month internship with a chance of being hired into jobs with average starting salaries of over $30,000 per year. After graduation, 85 percent go to college or are hired full time.

 Chertavian got the idea for Year Up while participating in the Big Brothers mentoring program, where the teen he helped through college made an impression. “I saw that he had all the potential, but didn’t have the access and the opportunity.” After his successful Wall Street career and starting a company that he sold at great profit, Chertavian decided to help those inner city kids by starting the Year Up program.

Jonathan Garcia was raised by a single mother in Spanish Harlem who died when he was 14.  Thanks to Year Up, he now does computer technical support for Chenault and other executives at American Express.  He says the program saved his life, because back then, “My ambition was to just make money now so I can eat tonight and tomorrow,” he tells Safer. 

Safer speaks to several of the Year Up students, some in Boston, the San Francisco Bay area and in New York City, nearly all of whom faced the common and daunting challenges of the inner city such as drugs, poverty and foster care. 

Chertavian says these kids are a largely untapped source of talent. “A majority of the young adults growing up in isolated poverty…want opportunity, want to be challenged…they haven’t had any exposure as to how do you do that.”