$0 To $60k In 7 Weeks

In September, Adero Knott was out of school and out of work. Then she leveraged re:work training, a nonprofit I run out of BLUE1647, and in seven weeks earned a software sales job. Adero now makes over $60,000 annually, more than the average household in the U.S., and more than double the average individual in the U.S.

In a previous article, I advocated for vocational training as a way for companies to find, and keep, sales talent. The basic idea is that through specialized training, a program can quickly prepare someone like Adero, without a college degree or experience, to do a job well. This, of course, requires that tech employers are open-minded enough to hire people without college degrees, or with nontraditional backgrounds.

But what’s also important is to evaluate what a massive salary leap, or ‘income pop’, actually means for Adero and, more broadly, for society.


The author with members of re:work training's first cohort.

There is a such thing as free lunch.

Due to her substantial salary, with uncapped commissions, Adero now has a much greater level of financial stability. Her compensation package includes fully paid health insurance, free public transit, a 401k match, and other perks like free, catered lunch. Adero, who’s never had a salaried job before, can now save money for the first time, she can buy a car, and she can travel for leisure. Beyond that, she can also invest in her own business, AK Prosthetics, designed to create affordable 3D printed prosthetics that can be modified for specific activities.

In a country where over 70% of the population worries about being able to cover their living expenses, Adero is now more comfortable than most. Transformational for her, to be sure, but what’s more exciting is the impact individual ‘income pops’ can have at scale.


Collateral Impact

Chicago, ranked the most segregated city in America, has a larger gap in incomes between black and white residents than national averages. The black unemployment rate in Chicago is nearly triplethat of white residents. According to CNN, “Just over half of census tracts with a majority black population have more than 30% of families living in poverty.... Only 2% of predominantly white census tracts have that high a percentage of families in poverty.”

But Adero, who’s originally from the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, plans to move back to the South Side. And this is where real change happens, because it redirects the flow of wealth in the Chicagoland area.

Gentrification or Augmentation?

As programs like re:work expand, and more people like Adero take their tech salaries back to the South and West sides of Chicago, we’re more likely to see the positive effects of gentrification, rather than the negative effects.

A few good things generally happen when new money enters neighborhoods: a boost in the local economy (more businesses mean more jobs), a higher tax base leading to more investment in local infrastructure, parks, and schools, and lower crime rates, which result from more jobs.

As an example, Hyde Park, which does have wealthy areas, still averages less than the national average in every category of consumer spending. Adero’s salary, well over the neighborhood’s average, will naturally go back into the local economy. Immediately, her spending will likely go directly to local businesses, and in time, she envisions her own business (recently funded through a national pitch competition) creating jobs in Hyde Park and beyond.

Simply put, the community that Adero commits to will economically benefit from her moving there.

That said, we can’t talk about gentrification without discussing its negative effects, or the most divisive effect, racial displacement. As Benjamin Grant writes, “When success comes to a neighborhood, it does not always come to its established residents, and the displacement of that community is gentrification’s most troubling effect.”

Adero’s transfer of wealth to the South Side, though, won’t create the displacement seen in Chicago neighborhoods like Logan Square. Not only is she black, but she was born and raised in Hyde Park. Property values and rent prices may increase, but that’s a good thing if it’s caused by salary increases for long-time residents.

Beyond that, when middle to upper-class whites are the ones gentrifying, they often don’t invest in neighborhoods with high black populations. Researchers have found that predominately black neighborhoods rarely gentrify at all, because of white fear, or ‘white avoidance’. In a study by Scholars Strategy Network, Jackelyn Hwang writes, “Racial and ethnic stereotypes influence people’s choices about where they want to live and which neighborhoods to avoid…gentrifiers prefer already white neighborhoods; they are least attracted to black neighborhoods and see Asian and Latino neighborhoods as middling options.”

Given her deep roots in the neighborhood, Adero’s income pop won’t create displacement, but rather an economic boost to the community in which she was born and raised. In this way, vocational training programs become a fair, practical method to offer stronger economic opportunities for overlooked communities.

One before Two, Two before Three

Adero is the first candidate placed through re:work training, and there’s a lot of work to do. Most of all, for the system to work, she needs to be a productive employee for her new company.

But, given apt support, vocational training programs can spur explosive change, putting a dent in longstanding and complex issues (e.g. economic inequality, cost of higher education, racial displacement, etc.)

The sooner the private sector is willing to hire candidates with diverse educational backgrounds, the sooner the U.S. can recognize an untapped talent pool of millions. One hire may seem insignificant, but massive change can happen when a talented individual like Adero enters the economic mainstream.

Harrison Horan is the Founder and CEO of re:work training. 

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.

Diversity, Education, Income Inequality, Innovation,
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