Market-driven design meets needs of opportunity youth and regional employers
The Cowen Institute at Tulane University is proud to announce the recent launch of the Earn and Learn Career Pathways Program. The program is designed with a market-driven approach that seeks to meet the needs of regional businesses and opportunity youth—young people aged 16-24 who are neither working nor in school. Earn and Learn introduces opportunity youth to career pathways in high-growth, high-wage industries. The establishment of Earn and Learn is a step towards New Orleans reaching its potential of addressing the workforce demands of its rapidly growing business sectors as well as the needs of the city’s most vulnerable youth. The program launched in September with its first cohort of 18 participants.
“The Cowen Institute has developed a promising model to enhance opportunities for disadvantaged young adults by shortening the time it takes them to earn a postsecondary credential, providing on-the-job skills, and preparing them for high-demand careers.”
–William D. Hansen, USA Funds president and CEO
Amy Barad, Director of Strategic Initiatives, explains the work of the Cowen Institute’s Reconnecting Opportunity Youth initiative and the Earn and Learn program at the Aspen Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund fall convening in November 2014.
An initiative of the Reconnecting Opportunity Youth division within the Cowen Institute, Earn and Learn employs opportunity youth in a yearlong apprenticeship program that combines hands-on training in jobs at Tulane with career-focused technical and academic skills training through the Accelerated Career Education (ACE) program at partner Delgado Community College. Apprentices are paid livable wages and keep a 40-hour week with 20 hours on the job, and 20 hours in the classroom. Currently, apprenticeships are focused on one of two high-growth sectors: skilled crafts/advanced manufacturing or creative digital media/IT. Apprentices work at Tulane in the Facilities, Athletics, Communications and IT Departments, as well as in the Business School and the Cowen Institute.
Nationally, there are an estimated 6.7 million opportunity youth, representing $260,000 per youth in lost tax revenues and increased social spending. In 2013, the Cowen Institute estimated there were 26,000 opportunity youth in the New Orleans metro area, or nearly one in five youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are disconnected from school and work. The term “opportunity youth” represents the potential value the population could add to their communities if connected to education and work.
“Increasing educational and job opportunities for opportunity youth is a moral imperative and absolutely essential to our future as a country,” stated Tulane President Emeritus Scott Cowen. In 2012, sparked by Dr. Cowen’s work on the White House Council for Community Solutions as President of Tulane, the Cowen Institute launched the Reconnecting Opportunity Youth initiative to identify and incubate strategies to reconnect opportunity youth. Such strategies have the potential to benefit not only the opportunity youth population, but the entire city. Communities in which at-risk youth are connected to pathways out of poverty are safer, stronger and more likely to thrive.
“We see this as economic development,” stated Amy Barad, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Cowen Institute. “Creating opportunities that leverage the potential of all young people builds a human capital pipeline that helps communities attract and retain businesses.” To ensure Earn and Learn aligns strategically with the economic growth demands and industry needs of regional businesses, the program was developed in alignment with the New Orleans Business Alliance, the city’s economic development organization, and Prosperity NOLA, its five-year economic development plan.”
“Earn and Learn starts the workforce pipeline for an otherwise-sidelined group of New Orleanians, young adults not tied into the traditional pathways to employment and opportunity,” said New Orleans Business Alliance Interim President and CEO Melissa Ehlinger. “By tying the program to two of the clusters identified in ProsperityNOLA – creative digital media and skilled crafts – Earn and Learn is setting the stage for greater economic opportunity and economic equity for all New Orleanians.”
A distinction of Earn and Learn is its dual-customer approach: it was built to meet the needs not only of opportunity youth, but also the unique demands of industry. Numerous regional employers contributed to the Earn and Learn’s curriculum to ensure that apprentices are trained in the skills employers are seeking. Upon completing the program, participants will receive an industry-based credential and program staff will help them find long-term employment or additional educational and vocational training pursuits.
“We are thrilled to partner with Tulane on this exciting initiative,” stated Jasper Frank, Program Manager at Delgado Community College. “The program provides incredible, relevant experience which is a built-in incentive for participants to persist through the program. This a program that has the potential to lead not only to a job, but a career.”
Earn and Learn apprentices also receive career counseling, mentoring and other skill development to help them succeed in professional workplaces. Their Tulane supervisors provide feedback on a weekly basis about the performance of apprentices and the program overall, which informs the ongoing development and improvement of program curriculum.
“For the Earn and Learn apprentice, the program combines valuable on-the-job training as it relates to a specific field of interest and the importance of working in a collaborative environment,” said Sheldon Jones, Tulane Associate Director of Technical Support and Network Operations Center and a supervisor for the Earn and Learn program. “As the workforce evolves, employers continue to look for employees who can work with others to solve complex problems efficiently. For the employer, apprentices are valuable assets who allow employers to fill in gaps within their own organizations while simultaneously contributing to the development and success of their future. Creating technically astute, professionally developed, and enthusiastic employees is at the heart of the Earn and Learn program.”
“As an apprentice in Earn and Learn, my life is evolving into something great,” stated Maegan Carroll, an apprentice working in Tulane’s Communications department. “My supervisor is helping me grow in so many ways. I have more dreams to be successful than I had ever hoped for.”
Giovanni Perkins, an apprentice working in the Facilities Department, stated, “You must be brave and willing to take risks because you are surrounded by people who are here to support you.” Perkins recently helped to build a new office in one of Tulane’s downtown buildings.
“As someone who grew up in New Orleans public schools, has taught in public schools, and knows first-hand the challenges that our public schools and our young people face, the Earn and Learn program gives me great hope,” stated Brandy Williams, Earn and Learn Program Manager. “In a few short months this program has been transformative for our apprentices. They have developed so much confidence while learning marketable skills for the workplace. They know they have opportunities before them. And that makes all the difference in the world.”
Earn and Learn draws on partnerships inside and outside of Tulane to bolster the program. The Youth Empowerment Project provides professional development for Earn and Learn staff as they manage the unique circumstances of opportunity youth. The Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine acts as the program’s evaluator, providing a rigorous data evaluation system to measure and track outcomes, which will then be used by the Cowen Institute to refine the program and determine best practices that can be used for replication.