Wegmans And Hillside Partner To Support Youth Education And Employment

Coauthored by Meghan Wagner and Duane Hutt 

By the mid-1980s, low high school graduation rates in Rochester (NY) city schools were helping perpetuate a cycle of multi-generational poverty that remains tragically common among many urban areas nationwide. Without a diploma or the job-readiness “soft skills” that often accompany it, steady employment opportunities can be elusive for youth – and that difficulty can follow them for the rest of their lives.

At Wegmans Food Markets, a grocery chain founded in Rochester and which today is recognized as a national leader in its industry, a different trend was also recognized in the mid-1980s: Despite its strong reputation as a youth employer, Wegmans was seeing a 100% annual attrition rate among minor employees. The costs of aggressive recruitment, training and retention programs were growing, just to maintain stable employment levels and consistent quality of service.

The company designed a solution to these two challenges with the Wegmans Work-Scholarship Connection program, in which a Youth Advocate (YA) would partner with students identified as being at significant risk of not completing school. The program became an affiliate of Hillside Family of Agencies in 1997, and together we help participating students earn their high school diplomas through a wide array of coordinated supportive services: targeted tutoring and mentoring, college preparation, soft-skills job-readiness training and more. Our program, Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (HW-SC) is based on a committed partnership between the YA, the student and their family, teachers and community supports – including local employers, who play a key role in the success of many participants.


Today, 20 employers partner with Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection to provide part-time work for more than 800 school-age youth in Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Rome and Salamanca, NY; in Prince George’s County, MD; and in the program’s newest pilot location in Washington, DC. The 4,000-plus youth who annually participate in HW-SC enjoy graduation rates well above the norm among peer students in their respective districts – and students working with employment partners experience the highest graduation rates of all. On average, 96 percent of youth who stay with the program throughout high school, receive job training and maintain part-time employment with an HW-SC employment partner earn their diploma on time.

Wegmans has remained a close ally of our program, and is still the leading employment partner for eligible HW-SC students. In addition to helping an underserved population segment achieve new multi-generational success, the company has seen dramatic improvement in its own recruitment and retention efforts. Nearly 600 HW-SC students are employed at Wegmans stores, and attrition rates among minor employees has been reduced to only 30 percent compared to 100 percent in 1987 – saving the company $1.4 million annually. Further, more of these workers remain with Wegmans even after graduating from high school: Currently, 617 HW-SC alumni work in a variety of positions within the chain, including 21 interns in Wegmans’ management training program.

Maintaining this level of success requires Wegmans to be an active partner in each HW-SC student worker’s daily progress. “Store Champions” communicate regularly with Youth Advocates to support the students by ensuring they keep a proper balance of academics, work schedules, family and social lives and post-secondary planning. High-level employment partners even take note of a student’s academic performance and work with the youth to adjust job-shift schedules as needed. Program metrics show that this combination of involvement and advocacy from both the YA and the employer yields optimal results.

By visualizing the potential of a true community partnership to benefit at-risk students – and then working to make that vision a reality – Wegmans and Hillside Family of Agencies have created an innovative solution to a pervasive problem. Working closely with every participating student, we are helping more youth each year pursue and achieve their goals of graduation, college and career.

Meghan Wagner is the Director, Jobs Institute, of Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (HW-SC), and oversees strategic planning, employer relationship development and operational best practices for the employment, college and career services across HW-SC’s 5 regions. She has previously worked as a Manager, YWCA Boston and as a Senior Training Associate, Health Resources In Action, in Boston, MA. 

Duane Hutt is a Human Resource Manager at Wegmans, overseeing 26 stores in Rochester and the Southern Tier part of New York State. In 30 years at Wegmans, Duane has worked in 5 different business units all while working for one company. These industries consist of Store Operations where he started as a part time high school produce employee and worked his way to a Store Manager at 2 different store locations. He has run a manufacturing facility for Wegmans, worked in Distribution, Supply Chain, and Human Resources. Wegmans has been named to the Fortune 100 best companies to work for 20 years in a row.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.

Business Case, Education, Partnerships,
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