Grads2Careers Places Baltimore’s Young People on New Career Paths

Posted March 31, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Overhead shot of wowman at a laptop, hands on keyboard, with a tablet on her left and a pad of paper on her right.

Young peo­ple in Bal­ti­more are ambi­tious and inter­est­ed in a diverse array of employ­ment fields. They’re also pas­sion­ate about build­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. Yet, too often, their dreams and aspi­ra­tions go unre­al­ized because of sys­temic bar­ri­ers, such as the his­toric seg­re­ga­tion of African Amer­i­can fam­i­lies and the dis­in­vest­ment in Black com­mu­ni­ties.

The data is stark. For exam­ple: In 2017, researchers checked in on Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic School grad­u­ates six years after they had earned a high school diplo­ma. The researchers found that many of these grad­u­ates — a group of large­ly African Amer­i­can stu­dents — were not earn­ing a liv­ing wage, not in school and not working.

Grads2Careers — an ini­tia­tive sup­port­ed by var­i­ous pub­lic sys­tems and pri­vate fun­ders, includ­ing the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion — has built a mod­el that seeks to reverse these trends.

The pro­gram — led by Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic Schools, the Bal­ti­more May­or’s Office of Employ­ment Devel­op­ment (MOED) and the non­prof­it Bal­ti­more’s Promise — fos­ters col­lab­o­ra­tion between the city’s work­force devel­op­ment and school sys­tems. It looks to build sus­tain­able, new career paths for local high school grad­u­ates who are not yet enrolled in or prepar­ing for college.

Since launch­ing in 2018, the pro­gram has placed hun­dreds of young Bal­ti­more­ans — most of them young peo­ple of col­or — in jobs in grow­ing sec­tors, such as con­struc­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing, health care and infor­ma­tion technology.

For too many years, too many young peo­ple have left high school with­out the sup­port they need to go to work in an indus­try that offers a path­way to a liv­ing wage,” says Jason Perkins-Cohen, direc­tor of MOED. Grads2Careers demon­strates that we — the school sys­tem, the work­force sys­tem, com­mu­ni­ty col­leges, and train­ing providers — can work togeth­er in a new and dif­fer­ent way to make a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence in the lives of young adults.”

How does Grads2Careers work?

Grads2Careers con­nects young Bal­ti­more­ans to free job train­ing, cre­den­tials and a career path. Par­tic­i­pants are recent col­lege grad­u­ates and GED recip­i­ents who have no imme­di­ate plans to attend a two- or four-year college.

The pro­gram offers both occu­pa­tion­al train­ing and aca­d­e­m­ic reme­di­a­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties to help young peo­ple grow their cre­den­tials and skills. At every step, young peo­ple also receive wrap­around ser­vices — such as hous­ing, trans­porta­tion and men­tal health sup­port — that can be crit­i­cal to their suc­cess in the program.

A sol­id start

In its first phase, from 2018 to 2020, near­ly 500 young adults enrolled in Grads2Careers’ programming.

Ear­ly results for the inau­gur­al class — 149 par­tic­i­pants — are promis­ing: Near­ly three-quar­ters com­plet­ed the pro­gram and 61% obtained a job with an aver­age hourly wage of near­ly $13 per hour at place­ment, accord­ing to assess­ment data. After 60 days, more than 90% of stu­dents who were placed in jobs were retained. A sec­ond cohort saw sim­i­lar com­ple­tion and reten­tion results — though their aver­age hourly wage at place­ment was high­er: $14.53.

Con­tin­u­ing through the pandemic

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has fueled eco­nom­ic insta­bil­i­ty and like­ly added to the chal­lenges await­ing young grad­u­ates in Bal­ti­more and beyond. Grads2Careers has evolved dur­ing this cri­sis by mod­i­fy­ing its prac­tices in numer­ous ways.

For instance: The pro­gram now hosts vir­tu­al meet­ings for train­ing providers. Dur­ing these ses­sions, providers engage in pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment and can also dis­cuss pan­dem­ic-spe­cif­ic issues, such as how to social dis­tance at train­ing sites or offer ser­vices remotely.

Anoth­er change: Grads2Careers shift­ed its well­ness and men­tal health ser­vices online. This includes group ses­sions, where par­tic­i­pants can con­tin­ue to con­nect — now vir­tu­al­ly — to dis­cuss their expe­ri­ences in the pro­gram and elsewhere.

With the help of work­force part­ners, Grads2Careers is also dis­trib­ut­ing 200 basic needs kits — packed with items like face masks, hand san­i­tiz­er and office sup­plies — to par­tic­i­pants and local com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. Its next move? An emer­gency cash assis­tance option for cur­rent and past participants.

Goals for the future

Over the next three years, Grads2Careers aims to expand its ser­vices and pro­vide pro­gram­ming for 825 young Bal­ti­more­ans. The program’s over­all goal — to cre­ate long­stand­ing paths for local stu­dents to obtain careers — remains unchanged.

We know our young peo­ple want to work, and Grads2Careers ensures that they are get­ting con­nect­ed to oppor­tu­ni­ties that will help them earn fam­i­ly-sup­port­ing wages,” says Rachel Pfeifer, exec­u­tive direc­tor of col­lege and career readi­ness at Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic Schools. Addi­tion­al­ly, the part­ner­ship between MOED, city schools, and Baltimore’s Promise has devel­oped the infra­struc­ture that is need­ed to expand our high school to career con­nec­tions in mean­ing­ful, large-scale ways.”

Learn about an effort to strength­en Baltimore’s work­force system

Read about Casey’s efforts to help young peo­ple Thrive by 25

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