The backlit glass screen glowed as Michala Slade tapped away at the keyboard of her computer deep inside a row of cubicles. Not an unusual sight in the busy Washington office of The Carlyle Group LP, except that she is only 15 years old and in 10th grade.
Slade is one of 326 students enrolled in the Corporate Work Study Program at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, a private college preparatory school in Takoma Park that partners with businesses across the Washington metro area. For students, the program offers an opportunity to gain some professional experience early on, before they continue their education outside the walls of DBCR. For businesses, it trains the workforce of the future while providing capable, eager hands, willing to perform often mundane but essential office tasks for a low price.
“For me the biggest [value of] this program is the self-responsibility I see the students acquire, the reins they take of their own life,” said Kevin Virostek, managing partner for Greater Washington at Ernst & Young LLP.
The school trains students through a preparatory boot camp of sorts, then sends a rotating team of four to the partnering company’s office from September until June, with each student working about one day a week — five days per month. In return for what essentially equates to one full-time staffer, the company typically pays $30,000.
The price tag is one of the reasons businesses find the program appealing: it’s a one-time, reasonable fee for a temporary employee that comes with no burdensome administrative requirements. And the school even offers a “return policy” — should a student prove not a good fit, he or she is promptly replaced.
“These kids are doing jobs that are hard to fill and have a high turnover,” said Robert Easby-Smith, chairman of the DBCR board of directors and partner with the Chesapeake Restaurant Group in Vienna. “The company knows the job will be covered for the year so it’s a win-win program.”
For McLean-based Science Applications International Corp., Don Bosco Cristo students greet people at the front desk, help with audio-visual setups and provide logistics support at conferences. They also work in mail rooms and information technology departments; they answer phones, secure and prepare meeting space and compile briefing materials.
“Thirty thousand dollars is reasonable and absolutely worth it,” said Carla Post, SAIC’s assistant vice president and director of dining and conference services.
Student employees begin working through the program in the ninth grade, learning the basics of business etiquette — showing up on time, dressing appropriately, navigating the premises, and interacting with others — while simultaneously sharpening their professional skills. And with time, they become quite polished — “diamonds in the rough,” particularly after those first two years of employment when students get their footing, said the Rev. Steve Shafran, founder of the program and president of DBCR. “They have a good attitude and a resilience that shines through.”
To solicit partners, Shafran, who “took the program from binder to life and made it happen,” meets with company executives and their human resource managers and explains why sponsorship is in their best interest: it’s easy, inexpensive and value-laden for the company. The students will do good work for at least a year — though many return to the same company throughout high school — and they become ensconced in the corporate culture. Setting up a partnership is hassle-free, because the Don Bosco Cristo Rey Work Study of the Archdiocese of Washington Inc. is actually a student employment agency. It is incorporated separately from the school, and the students are DBCR employees.
“I contract with this legal entity. I get a bill. I pay it. I get a team of four student-employees for a year,” said Virostek.
At the Washington office of Latham & Watkins LLP, Christopher Gaitan, 15, offered a firm handshake to a visitor. One of his responsibilities is preparing inactive files for off-site storage. Gaitan’s gradually earned greater responsibility — quickly getting the hang of the records management software, and now creating file entries in the database.
“We want them to be a team player,” said Kerri Gilmore Mesiah, information resources manager at Latham & Watkins. “Our goal is to expose them to challenging work with the expectation that they’ll be successful.”
There is, of course, a feel-good, charitable element to the partnerships, when you consider that student acceptance into DBCR is based on income — “Are you poor enough?” in the words of Shafran. The median family income is $38,821; the average household size is four. The $7,500 earned by students is applied to the cost of education, which comes to about $13,500 per student. Collectively, student corporate earnings cover 50 percent of the school’s operating expenses. Families are required to pay a minimal fee.
This year local students will earn $2 million. Across the national network students will earn $44 million.
But it’s not just philanthropy. The DBCR model was the brainchild of a few priests outside Chicago who wanted to improve high school graduation rates of poor children, while providing tangible benefits to companies that participate. The result is what Chris Ullman, director of global communications at The Carlyle Group, calls “a two-way street.”
And it’s gaining traction. Today 25 schools are in the network nationwide. At DBCR, the first two classes that participated in the work study program, which launched in 2007, graduated with 100 percent college acceptance.
Looking ahead, business leaders concede that many jobs today — from paper filing to answering the phones — will disappear from the workplace tomorrow, thanks in no small part to changing processes. To ensure staff keep pace, managers are putting greater emphasis on teaching junior hires technology skills, graphic design and numbers analysis. And that is fine with today’s students, who feel perfectly comfortable seated at the computer — developing a PowerPoint presentation or designing an Excel spreadsheet from scratch.
Ultimately this program is about training today’s students for tomorrow’s workplace, said Gerren Price, associate director of youth programs for the mayor’s office in Washington: “I really believe young people who have good professional experiences in their youth will be more successful in the future.”
The fine print
Don Bosco Cristo Rey’s work-study program is about more than philanthropy. Here’s why it’s worth the money.
What you get: A rotating team of four studentsfrom September until June, with each student covering about one day a week or five days per month.
What it costs: $7,500 per student, $30,000 per team.
How it works: Businesses contract with the work study program, which handles payroll, I-9, workers compensation, and all employment/tax-related matters.
Why it’s worth it: Businesses get what equates to a full-time employee for a reasonable wage, while saving money on taxes, health benefits, and other expenditures.
How it helps: The cost funds 50 percent of the cost of education for the student employees.
Who to contact: Executive Director Alicia Bondanella, 443-285-1478 or email@example.com
Workforce in training
Don Bosco Cristo Rey corporate partners 2012-2013
Abacus Technology Corp.
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer
& Feld LLP
B.F. Saul Company
Baker Botts LLP
Baker Hostetler LLP
Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP
Brookfield Office Properties Inc.
Choice Hotels International
Clark Construction Group LLC
Coakley & Williams
Counselors Title LLC
Ernst & Young LLP
Fitzgerald Auto Malls
Francis J. Collins Funeral Home
Gannett Company Inc.
Gleason Flynn Emig &
Gray Plant Mooty
Hyman Phelps McNamara PC
Impact Office Products
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP
Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Latham & Watkins LLP
Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP
Miller & Long Concrete
Patton Boggs LLP
PCM Services Inc.
Presidio Networked Solutions
Reed Smith LLP
RLJ Lodging Trust
Russell Reynolds Associates
Sheehy Auto Stores
Sidley Austin LLP
The Brickman Group Ltd.
The Carlyle Group
The Fernandez Group
The Meltzer Group
Van Scoyoc Associates
White & Case LLP
Wilson Elser Moskowitz
Edelman & Dicker LLP
Winston & Strawn LLP