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 Africa-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