For many IT pros, having the opportunity to volunteer their time and skills can be an inspiring perk. Companies have been responding of late by offering volunteer time off and by partnering with organizations that could benefit greatly from the added help of programs and staff time.
LinkedIn is one such company giving IT pros an opportunity to make a difference as part of a longstanding partnership with job training nonprofit Year Up, which began in 2011 when LinkedIn’s first CEO, Jeff Weiner, saw the value in working with the Year Up to open the talent pipeline and to give back.
Since then, LinkedIn has “grown into one of the major enterprise partners for Year Up,” says Audrey Rhodes Market, the Year Up program manager at LinkedIn. So much so that LinkedIn has a dedicated team with employees responsible for maintaining and growing the relationship with Year Up. LinkedIn has hired close to 105 Year Up interns since first partnering with the nonprofit.
Year Up offers young adults a year-long career readiness program in which they spend six months learning hard skills for a new career path and the next six months in an internship where they can put those skills to work and gain experience. Students who complete the program are often offered a position with the company they interned with. Students are typically from communities underrepresented in the tech industry, and the program has proved successful at giving them the opportunity to grow a career in tech.
Leveraging LinkedIn Coaches and InDays
LinkedIn’s work with Year Up centers around two programs, LinkedIn Coaches and InDays. LinkedIn Coaches trains LinkedIn employees to be coaches who can “engage in career conversations with job seekers and youth facing barriers,” according to LinkedIn. They are trained on how to offer workshops on professional branding, how to offer advice on resumes and on completing LinkedIn profiles, and how to engage in meaningful career conversations.
InDays, short for Investment Days, occur once per month during which employees can invest in or focus on themselves, the company, or communities outside work. InDays typically have themes, such as giving back, learning, wellness, and play. Twice a year, on an InDay, LinkedIn invites all current Year Up students, regardless of where they are interning, to take advantage of LinkedIn’s coaches. Up to 300 Year Up students participate in career workshops, get advice on their LinkedIn profiles and resumes, make connections with other Year Up students and LinkedIn employees, and have open and honest career conversations with LinkedIn coaches.
Lisa Parreira, a senior enterprise engineer at LinkedIn, graduated from Year Up in 2014 and has since participated in several LinkedIn Coaches events. She notes that the events often include mock interviews, LinkedIn profile building, resume reviews, panel discussions, and session on how to “make the best out of their internship” and even to provide guidance on the next steps in Year Up participants’ careers.
“I always felt elevated and inspired when attending LinkedIn hosted events as a student, and they reminded me to stay focused. I’m appreciative that LinkedIn invests in these types of programs, and I’m indebted to serving on those same discussion panels that once encouraged and inspired me,” says Parreira.
The partnership between Year Up and LinkedIn has always felt like a “natural fit,” says Emily Schaffer, Year Up’s managing director of technology. “LinkedIn is a great example of a company that’s done strategic thinking about their company identity, how that’s expressed and how their values are expressed in different ways. They’re about bringing people together for the sake of career advancement.”
Schaffer emphasizes LinkedIn’s thoughtful approach to volunteerism. While plenty of companies will step in and say they’d love to help, LinkedIn is one of the companies that has taken that a step further by dedicating resources, money, and people to “organize and mobilize an effort like this,” she says.
Making an impact on interns
Antonyo Todd was working retail at Target when he decided to take part in the Year Up program. He graduated this year and started his role as an associate process analyst at LinkedIn. During his time with Year Up, Todd participated in an InDay event, noting that the session on developing your professional brand was a “great chance to get insight into what recruiters look for in a strong profile, and they provided tips moving forward.” The experience helped him better understand how to drive his new career forward after making the jump from retail, he says.
Workshops and sessions are often led by LinkedIn employees who went through the Year Up program themselves, which enables students both to see how far the program can take them and to connect with people who know what the experience is like. While many of the sessions are workshops, students also break out into rooms where they are matched alone or in pairs with LinkedIn employee volunteers. Students are given the chance to meet mentors, make networking connections, and work on their personal and professional branding.
This day is also particularly valuable for Year Up students who don’t always come from an “education background,” and may not have had access to career development course, says LinkedIn’s Market. They’re given advice tailored to their situations — such as how to highlight transferable skills or experience that might not be directly related to the field they want to get into. Students are taught how to brand their education background and work history so that it demonstrates how they’re qualified to get into a technical role, even if at first glance it doesn’t seem like an exact fit on paper.
A valuable experience for employees
InDay is more than an opportunity for the students to meet with mentors and to gain career advice — the employee volunteers also take a lot away from the day. It can open the talent pipeline by creating networking opportunities between employees and students for future job opportunities down the line. And it gives employees a chance to interact with “different business units and leaders” that they might not “otherwise get exposure to,” says Year Up’s Schaffer.
Christian Rubio, a programs associate at LinkedIn, graduated from Year Up in 2019 and has remained involved with the Year Up community by participating in LinkedIn Coaches events and mentoring interns every cycle, even hosting his own intern once.
“That was one of the best experiences I have had here at LinkedIn. It was very humbling to me since I remember being in the very same shoes when I first started having lots of questions and was so eager to learn. Helping my intern connect the dots of her work to the mission and vision of the team was amazing. She made such an impact on her role that she was offered a contract role with a team she had previously worked with,” says Rubio.
Full-time employees at LinkedIn who came to the company through the Year Up program note other LinkedIn programs that offer support, perks, and benefits. Angie Ramirez-Reyes, an Insights Program Associate and 2019 Year Up graduate, says that after joining LinkedIn full-time, she discovered even more amazing initiatives such as LEAD, which is aimed at Black and Latinx talent to build more diverse leadership, and REACH, which offers engineering apprenticeships for upskilling and professional development.
“[These] programs are amazing opportunities that help employees like me continue to upskill and transform my professional development,” she says.
LinkedIn’s partnership with Year Up is an important piece to the larger DEI puzzle at LinkedIn. The program not only gives back to underrepresented youth; it also opens the talent pipeline to less traditional talent pools. And through that commitment to diversity, which started with leadership, LinkedIn has not only grown its partnership with Year Up, but also fostered DEI in the organization and demonstrated how a concerted effort to dismantle the traditional hiring structure in tech can open doors to untapped talent markets.
“I think one of the most powerful aspects of Year Up is it brings together people who wouldn’t otherwise find themselves in the same room and then facilitates a connection that is meaningful in a way that would be difficult to have in regular life,” says Schaffer.