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Offering a way back to hopes of college

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Year Up, which recently received Fast Company's Social Capitalist Award for its innovation and social impact, is "reinventing that loop" between education and jobs, Mr. Husock says, but this time the jobs are in giant financial and healthcare firms, where the demand is as much for people skills as for technical ones.

Gaining polish

Year Up gives students a stipend while they take technical classes and gain some professional polish.

Then it sends them into a six-month paid apprenticeship, where they test their skills but still can call on the support of Year Up staff and mentors. Every day there's an emphasis on what Chertavian calls the ABC component - Attitude, Behavior, Communication. And that impresses employers. One apprentice recently helped a senior hospital executive with a computer problem. The executive didn't know the young man wasn't part of the regular staff when he sent a complimentary e-mail to Mary Finlay, deputy chief information officer for Partners HealthCare System.

"He said, 'You've got a wonderful staff and he was so helpful and didn't make me feel like an idiot,' " Ms. Finlay says. That's hard to teach entry-level employees, and "that's why we go back to [Year Up]," she says.

Year Up represents a broader shift toward "looking at a career ladder, helping someone get into a position that has a future, so that they have family-sustaining wages," says Pat Lees, a workforce-learning consultant at the Chicago-based Council for Adult & Experiential Learning (CAEL). Her group has found great success at test sites for Lifelong Learning Accounts, where employers match employee contributions to a fund that can be used for continuing education.

The jobs Year Up alumni land pay an average of $14 an hour, and Chertavian says he'll tweak the curriculum as the market for technology jobs changes. But he's equally devoted to nurturing students' love of learning. Through a partnership with Cambridge College, which caters to people who juggle school, work, and family, Year Up students earn up to 18 credits. "Now, forevermore on their résumé they can say, 'College Degree expected,' " Chertavian says. "With just that alone, on average they're expected to earn 25 percent more than their counterparts who don't have some college experience."

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