Bridging the Opportunity Divide

This Professor Proved That Everyone Deserves a Fair Shot at a Good Job. Then He Made It Happen

February 9, 2014
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This Professor Proved That Everyone Deserves a Fair Shot at a Good Job. Then He Made It Happen
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One Columbia University Professor saw promise in 47 low-income young adults during his academic research. So he founded a nonprofit to build them up.

When  Columbia University’s Arthur Langer studied 47 low-income young adults to understand why they struggled to find career opportunities, he found that it wasn’t because they lacked talent. What they needed was a way to develop professional skills. The four year study suggested that anyone would succeed if given a fair opportunity.

So instead of stopping there, Langer took it upon himself to provide that opportunity: He founded Workforce Opportunity Services in 2005 to provide disadvantaged young adults and veterans with educational opportunities that lead immediately to long-term careers. WOS has flipped the traditional job-placement model. First, it finds employers who have or create job openings, then it finds disadvantaged youth and veterans to fill those jobs. The students then undergo a rigorous training program where they attend night classes on social skills, read The New York Times and read books on office politics. They also write weekly journal entries and take classes on interpersonal communications. Their weekly assignments can ask questions like “Describe your level of self-esteem.” In Langer’s mission statement, he said the program is designed not only to create good workers — it also wants to create better people and citizens. When the training ends, the employees are guaranteed a well-paid job in information technology. WOS has gained a large and well-recognized client base that includes Prudential Financial, Johnson & Johnson and Hewlett Packard.

Students have to apply for their positions, but once they’re in everything is covered. Though the students have to work very hard once accepted to a program, the long-term job security and free tech training is definitely worth it. “Our approach is simple: skills first. We want to teach our students valuable skills and launch them into careers,” Langer said on WOS’ website. “They work on their degrees part time and graduate from college, debt free.”

MORE: Helping College Students Graduate Debt Free and On Time

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