Alcoa Foundation: Providing today’s youth with the skills to prepare them for tomorrow

AF LogoWith employees in 30 countries across the world, Alcoa is truly a global company. Given the extent of its reach, Alcoa Foundation, the charitable arm of Alcoa, designs its community giving platform with this global audience in mind, developing scalable programs in partnership with select nonprofit organizations. In September 2013, Alcoa Foundation announced a global initiative for unemployed youth in ten Alcoa communities in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Jamaica, Spain, United Kingdom and United States. Through the Internships for Unemployed Youth Program, participating youth will receive the education and training necessary to pursue a career in manufacturing. Suzanne van de Raadt, Global Communications Manager, Alcoa Foundation, provided some insight into the history of the program and the tools Alcoa has used to manage its execution across geographies.

What is the history behind the Internships for Unemployed Youth Program? That is, how did the idea develop at Alcoa?

TIn 2013, Alcoa is celebrating its 125th anniversary as a company, and in honor of this historic mark, Alcoa Foundation decided to develop a new global signature program.

The starting point as we brainstormed ideas was to focus on education - one of Alcoa Foundation’s core themes - and specifically STEM and workforce development. With this in mind, a team of “Alcoans” and Alcoa Foundation staff considered the following options:

  • STEM competition for high school students
  • Middle-school teacher awards for innovative STEM programs
  • Essay contest to identify stellar mentors and role models
  • Internships for unemployed youth

We chose the topic of youth unemployment due to the global prevalence of the issue. According to the World Economic Forum, there are 1.2 billion youth in the world aged 15 to 24. They comprise 17 percent of the world's population and 40 percent of the world's unemployed. And this number is rising. What separates youth who can secure employment from those who cannot? The answer is training and work experience. Young people don’t know what skills they need, where to gain them or which employers want them.

The Manufacturing Institute estimates that 600,000 manufacturing jobs remain unfilled in the U.S. because companies can’t find people with the right skills. Small and medium-sized manufacturers have the most openings, yet the fewest resources for internships to attract and retain talent for careers in advanced manufacturing. Even with new technologies, demand for advanced manufacturing skills will persist as more Baby Boomers retire.

How will the program be executed? Can you provide some insight into Alcoa's partnership with the Institute of International Education (IIE)? How did you select IIE as a partner?

The Institute for International Education (IIE) is the managing partner that will select and pair the ten nonprofit partners with Alcoa locations, manage program implementation and oversee communications and evaluation. IIE was selected through a competitive process with proposals coming from two other organizations.

The ten nonprofits select small and medium-sized manufacturers to match with participating students, and deliver workforce readiness and counseling during and after the internships. Alcoa employees can get involved by mentoring interns and participating in training sessions organized by the nonprofits.

How did you determine which Alcoa locations would participate in the program? Were there certain criteria that had to be met?

Alcoa locations were selected based level of expected growth, business type and strategic interest in the program. Interns are able to be placed at Alcoa locations, however, each intern must attend a job fair before final placement and participating companies cannot guarantee employment.

Is there a benefit to executing this program through partnerships? How does the Internships for Unemployed Youth Program enhance your corporate citizenship efforts?

The reliance on community partnerships with nonprofits and Alcoa locations ensures that the program is addressing local workforce and employment issues of unemployed and underemployed youth. Internships for Unemployed Youth tells ten global stories about the challenges and opportunities that young people face in the labor market and how their chances for employment or continued career growth improve through internships with small and medium-sized manufacturers. This initiative re-engineers the education to employment path by giving the interns the chance to experience working with a manufacturer, and then to move on to employment or career development with the right expectations and professional support.

Do you have any advice for our members on how to overcome challenges they might face when trying to implement this program on a global scale?

Be flexible with a general design that enables attention to cultural nuances and different labor market conditions affecting youth and the opportunities. Also, formal evaluation is passé – we need dynamic methods to inform implementation and achievements, and to feed into ongoing and robust communications about the initiative at the local level. A long-term measure of success is how an internship program at the community level can be sustained beyond Alcoa Foundation’s support – documenting and replicating best practices is key.

Do you have any best practices that you would like to share with our members?

Be value-added with foundation programs – this initiative celebrates an Alcoa anniversary, indirectly extends Alcoa’s talent pipeline beyond the front gate, and is a solution to a community issue with unemployed youth. It also gives Alcoans the chance to share their knowledge and mentor students. Workforce development solutions should be connected to local needs. Don’t let your existing level of grant making capabilities limit your design horizon – global managing partners exist, are capable of operating a grant making fund, and minimizing administrative burdens on foundation or corporate resources.