By Ali Shahbaz, Forbes
Published: June, 16 2021
Bank of America today announced a $4.2 million commitment to advance career growth of young talent from underrepresented backgrounds. The multimillion dollar grant is split between two partner organizations, NPower and Urban Alliance.
The partnership aims to connect students to technical skills and jobs in making economic opportunity accessible to communities of color.
A Pervasive Hole In STEM:
Studies suggest that STEM occupations have outpaced growth relative to all other sectors. However, the trend has not translated to similar growth number in communities of color. As of 2018, Black and Latinx workers make up 9 percent and 7 percent of STEM workers respectively.
Another study shows that students from minority backgrounds leave STEM majors at far higher rates than the their peers: nearly 37 percent of the Latinx students and 40 percent of the Black students switched majors versus 29 percent of their caucasian peers.
Minority students are more likely to select majors and careers that correspond to social justice issues. And they presume that STEM fields are incompatible with these interests, a University of Texas at Austin professor, Catherine Riegle-Crumb said.
But the reality is: STEM subjects bring a distinct return on investment. Students studying science or math in college have a higher employment rate and salary than other majors after graduation, a U.S. Department of Education report said.
Yet with fewer students of color pursuing these career pathways, the road towards economic mobility seems distant. Because the ability to access high paying technical careers is a critical solution to reduce systemic inequities that work against communities of color.
The Three Musketeers:
To support young talent from minority communities to access technical professions, three organizations have come together for an innovative collaboration: Bank of America, NPower, and Urban Alliance.
This partnership is unique. Because it leverages private sector capital as a glue to connect the mission of two non-profit organizations.
The first player is Bank of America — the corporate giant headquartered in Charlotte. Last year, the Bank announced a $1 billion commitment to advancing racial equality and economic opportunity for people and communities of color. In March this year, the Bank expanded its commitment to $1.25 billion over five years.
Now, the two non-profits.
NPower is a national organization that is committed to advancing race and gender equity in the tech industry through skills training, real world experience, support and mentorships.
And Urban Alliance aims to build equitable, diverse next-generation workforce by providing deep-touch professional soft skills training, mentoring, and 9-month paid internships to young people — 99% of whom are from communities of color.
Start Early For Deeper Impact:
Through the support of Bank of America, NPower will provide technical training to all Urban Alliance students over the next three years, complementing Urban Alliance’s intensive soft skills curriculum. This effort will provide 1,500+ students with digital-literacy training and deeper tech certification for a self-selected subset.
“We can expand the learning pathways for high schoolers that will position them for quality, recession-proof careers” Bertina Ceccarelli, Chief Executive Officer of NPower said.
Also through this collaboration, Urban Alliance will expand its two-track offering for high school students — an experiential internship track for students going on to college and a high-school-to-career track for students preparing to enter full-time work.
There is another key differentiator. Many corporate sector-led DEI initiatives have focused on college students. But this partnership, accompanied by the $4.2 million grant, will specifically empower high school students.
This is essential because capacity building of diverse professionals should start early — to help individuals develop future-proof skills in becoming economically self-sufficient after graduation.
“Early employment is critical to help young people build the skills, networks, and experience needed to break out of cycles of poverty and achieve long-term success,” Kerry Sullivan, President Bank of America Charitable Foundation said.
“This kind of collaboration between nonprofits in the workforce development space is rare and much-needed if we are going to make real progress toward removing systemic barriers to economic opportunity for youth of color,” Elizabeth Lindsey, CEO of Urban Alliance said.
Lindsey was a first-generation college student and understands first hand the imperative for mentoring and training young students. There is no shortage of opportunity, she says.
This is true. As the economy reopens after mass-vaccination, record highs in hiring is imminent — job openings in the U.S. surged to 8.12 million last month. What is needed now is a persistent — not seasonal — strategy to link opportunity to those that cannot access it today.