Scaling Up a Workforce Program for Youth: Lessons from the Year Up Program

August 30, 2016
A group of three pictures showing people studying and at work

By Erica Zielewski, Senior Social Science Research Analyst and Nicole Constance, Social Science Research Analyst

As demand for social services increase, some programs find it challenging to grow and serve more people while still providing the same quality of services provided at the program’s original scale. Our recent report looks at Year Up’s experiences and lessons learned in scaling up their program.

The Year Up program is one of nine career pathways programs in our Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) study. Year Up targets 18-24 year olds from low-income backgrounds with a high school diploma or GED, providing participants with six months of occupational training in high-demand fields such as IT and finance. The program then connects students to a six-month internship in their field to help build relationships with potential employers. These internships, many with Fortune 500 companies, are possible because of a hallmark of the Year Up program — its connection to the business world.

A rigorous study like PACE requires each participating site to enroll enough study participants to form relatively large treatment and control groups. In the case of Year Up, the participating sites had to collectively and quickly increase recruitment by 50% in order to meet the study sample requirements.

Year Up expanded recruitment, scaled up their signature program services, and addressed related challenges while maintaining quality and continuing their work to improve the lives of more low-income youth. Several takeaways emerged from Year Up’s experiences that may help other organizations considering when and how to scale up services.

Create a Culture for Clear and Continuous Use of Data

Year Up invested significant resources in a strong performance reporting system. This system provides real-time information as youth move through the program. Managers rely on these data to monitor participant progress and staff performance.

Build on Core Principles

As Year Up expanded, program leaders saw that the flexibility they gave instructors might have led to some deviations from their base model of combining training and internships, making it more difficult to maintain consistent quality. To balance flexibility for local staff with fidelity to the model, Year Up centralized curriculum development and launched an effort to classify and distribute best practices.

Outside Organizations Can Bring Fresh Perspectives

To expand recruitment, Year Up hired a marketing firm that helped them better understand and target potential participants and how best to reach them.

Make the Business Case

Year Up is particularly effective at engaging the private sector. They do so by making the business case to employers and corporations rather than appealing solely to a sense of social responsibility. Year Up participants will come to their internships with the necessary technical and workplace skills and that the businesses will not need to invest substantial training to get an effective and valuable worker.

Have the Capacity and Willingness to Change

As they expanded, Year Up’s leaders realized they needed to change course in several areas in order to increase impact. For example, to support the program’s reliance on strong connections to the business community, they changed the skill sets and requirements for local leaders from a non-profit to a business background. Similarly, to help support the cost of growing the program, they shifted focus from some core services to a community college adaptation, where costs could be shared. This willingness to step back, assess, and then change course enabled them to identify new opportunities while maintaining the spirit and intention of the program.

Year Up’s experiences highlight the challenges and opportunities that programs face when scaling up services.

Our study of Year Up’s work continues, so be on the lookout for findings on early impacts on program participants expected in 2017.

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