"In 1971, I was a high school graduate with no aspirations of college and no money for college, in fact I couldn't afford to buy a piece of clothing at a store until I was 17," related Diane Schueneman, senior vice president and head of the global infrastructure solutions group at Merrill Lynch at an unusual commencement ceremony today. Instead of pursuing higher education, Schueneman got a job at the Thundering Herd right out of high school. The twenty young people in the audience who were receiving graduation certificates from a year-long IT training and recruiting program called Year Up were all around 17 too, either high school graduates or GED holders about to start full-time work at Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase. Several had brought their own child and their mother as guests.As anyone who has read the book or seen the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" knows, New York City is a tough place to be down on your luck, especially for single parents in low-income neighborhoods. Year Up tries to provide opportunities for smart "disconnected" youth by preparing them for the rough-and-tumble world of Wall Street. Unlike the Dean Witter intern program depicted in the movie, in which the hero finds out too late that his hard-won internship is unpaid, Year Up gives each student a $150 weekly stipend during their year of classes and apprenticeship. In six months of courses provided through Pace University, the students earn 16 transferable college credits and the know-how to work in desktop support or investment bank operations, which they then apply at a six-month apprenticeship at a firm.
"Corporations are in a war for talent, and cannot afford to leave anyone out," Schueneman says. "Technology is an especially hard area to recruit any more." Merrill Lynch hired 5,700 people total last year, and looks to hire about the same number of employees this year if markets hold, she says. Merrill sponsored and hired three graduates of Year Up this year, paying $800 per week per student (such corporate sponsorships cover 60% of the program's operating costs, according to Year Up founder and CEO Gerald Chertavian). "Ironically, some of our older employees whine about change, while these young interns were going through tremendous change and had an incredible attitude - I would have hired them all if I could," she says.
One graduate, John Sherman from Harlem, related that he had been into sports in high school and hoped to support his family, including his son Ty-Jean, by playing professional basketball. Then he broke his leg and had to rethink his future. He worked at a series of short-term jobs and sent out resumes to 100 companies, receiving not one call back. When he got an email about the Year Up program, he decided to try it. Since January, he's been doing desktop support on Merrill Lynch's trading floor and recently accepted a full-time position as Senior Specialist at the firm.