That’s the name of a growing Twin Cities business mentoring program that I first discovered five years ago.
And it works. The trainees and numbers prove it.
And it’s proving a great addition to the growing group of effective mentoring and internship efforts targeting disadvantaged kids.
It’s good for these youth who may not have in-home workplace role models. And it’s good for our growing, worker-hungry economy.
Just ask Bonsa Tilahun, a teenage Ethiopian immigrant in 2011-12.
Tilahun was a Genesys Works intern at Medtronic. He’s now a software engineer at Minneapolis-based Clientech.
“The transition from Ethiopia to the United States was a big shock,” recalled Tilahun, who arrived at age 14. “The Genesys training, the internship that school year, experiencing the corporate world, gave me an edge. I had mentors.
“And in the business world, I learned that what matters is your skill set, not where you are from. It’s about what you bring to the table.”
Tilahun, a graduate of Columbia Heights High School and the University of Minnesota, recalled that he also learned about potluck luncheons in his department at Medtronic — an opportunity to meet new workplace mates and friends.
And his mother’s traditional Ethiopian dishes were appreciated at those lunches.
The St. Paul-based Genesys Works chapter was established a decade ago by a burned-out venture capitalist named Jeff Tollefson. He was recruited to run it by Minnesota technology entrepreneur Phil Soran, a one-time teacher and a philanthropist with a heart for disadvantaged kids.
In 2008, the first year, there were about a dozen Genesys interns trained and placed with local businesses.
This month, more than 300 trainees started the eight weeks of hard- and soft-skill courses.
About 280, more than 90 percent of them low-income teens of color, will proceed to school-year internships with 55 companies that pay about $10 an hour. That’s about $10,000 in salary for 1,000 hours of work over the next nine months. That’s invaluable work experience and a good payday for those high school seniors. Many of the teens also must help support their families.
Nearly 100 percent of the Genesys Works graduates will enroll in college or other training after high school.
“We make relevant the education process,” said Karen Marben, who succeeded Tollefson last year as executive director of Twin Cities Genesys. “We teach core values that feed the esteem of our interns. Attitude, listening and communication skills.”
A couple of years ago, Tollefson thought he had accomplished what he could in building the Twin Cities chapter. He hired Marben and went home to think about his next career.
However, Rafael Alvarez, a former technology executive who started Genesys in Houston in 2002, asked Tollefson to open a New York City branch. Tollefson took the new challenge.
The Twin Cities was the second office, in 2008, followed by Chicago, San Francisco-Oakland and Washington, D.C., in 2016.
Genesis isn’t for every student. A small percentage leave during summer training. It caters to teens who are interested in technology and office work.
Companies such as Donaldson, Medtronic, Deluxe, Allianz, AgriBank, 3M and others pay about $20 an hour for an intern.
That earned revenue covers their pay and the salaries of about 25 instructors and staff, or about 90 percent of Genesys’ $5.6 million budget last year. Philanthropy covers the rest.
“We’re trying to walk the walk of the nonprofit business that provides a service and valued interns to corporate clients who are willing to pay for services,” Tollefson said.
The numbers are impressive.
In the Twin Cities, the Genesys students include 92 percent minorities, mostly from low-income families and 80 percent of whom will be first-generation college students. The alumni go on to start at jobs that pay $40,000 to $45,000 yearly salaries.
A study by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Columbia University last year estimated the “social return on investment” of Genesys to be $13 for every $1 invested by Genesys employers and funders.
That is, those 3,700 graduates nationally tend to earn more throughout their working lives, and they bypass the public costs associated with students who underperform in high school, drop out and aren’t ready for training or college.
Most importantly, Genesys helps to transform the lives of teens who may otherwise not have a business-training and internship opportunity.
And it gives employers the chance to tap into America’s fast-growing diverse workforce.
“I love Genesys,” said Phil Soran, the retired founder of Compellent and Xiotech, and an education philanthropist.