Be Who You Needed: Lessons from the Field of Workforce Development

Kenali Battle

“Be who you needed when you were younger.”

This is the quote that I recite daily on my way to work. When people ask what I do for a living, most write it off as just teaching business communications. But Year Up teaches all of the things that I didn’t learn in high school or college: teamwork, life skills, confidence, and surviving in the professional world.

In the five years that I have worked at Year Up National Capital Region, I have seen many young adults come and go, but when they leave, they are changed forever. I have had conversations with students that have been extremely personal, regarding sometimes life-altering decisions, and I’ve tried to be there for them each step of the way. Staff at Year Up create a “safe space,” which may be new and overwhelming for some students, yet beneficial for all. Each student has access to concerned staff members and mentors that will point them in the right direction, but never make decisions for them. How empowering is that for an 18-24 year old?

Each staff member has an innate desire to see our students do well. With feedback, trainings, and conversations, staff members learn how to guide and assist each student to reach their personal and professional goals. In the event that there are sensitive challenges outside of any one staff member’s expertise, full-time licensed social workers are there to assist.

Year Up Event
“Each staff member has an innate desire to see our students do well.”
Pictured here are students at a Year Up event.

Our students also attend on an at-will basis, meaning there is no financial aid or monetary commitment that makes students feel obligated to stay in the program. However, many stay engaged because of the transformation they start to see within themselves or have seen in their friends that previously completed the program. At the beginning of each cohort, each student signs a contract that serves as a guide to succeeding in a professional environment. It sets expectations, explains office norms, and holds each student accountable. The contract is a learning tool, not a punitive one, which allows students to tangibly see their career-limiting behaviors and work on correcting them.

Knowing that Year Up is not a quick fix, an easy fix, nor a fit for everyone, is essential for each individual that walks through those glass doors. I have seen many students decide that this just isn’t the place for them--and that’s okay. Whatever the outcome, many keep in contact with someone that they have met on their Year Up journey.

At the end of the day, Year Up staff offer young people someone to listen and to care. They offer someone who will just be there, which, when I was younger, was what I needed most.  

Kenali Battle is a business communications instructor at Year Up National Capital Region.

This story is part of a series highlighting 2016 Youth Opportunity Fund community partners. Led by the Citi Foundation and America’s Promise Alliance, the Fund – now in its second year – supports innovative, scalable programs that place low-income youth on a path to college and career success. To date, the Fund has provided $6 million to support 24 organizations, reaching more than 7,000 youth.

For more stories about Youth Opportunity Fund grantees, visit our Medium page.