Trying to decide what to do with life after high school can be daunting. The Road to Hire program works to ease that decision while also breaking economic mobility barriers in the Charlotte area. The team believes that motivated young adults should have an equal opportunity to develop professional skills and move up the ladder even if college isn’t an option.
Charlotte Works caught up with Chandler Martin, Director of Road to Hire, and former Director of Human Capital at Red Ventures, to discuss his career pathway and how the program provides training for young adults to help them become successful in the workplace.
Charlotte Works (CW): What was your career pathway to Red Ventures and the Road to Hire program?
Chandler Martin (CM): Prior to moving to Road to Hire, I worked at Red Ventures for seven years. I started in sales and moved into a host of leadership roles. I was in sales for a very short time. I spent the remaining 6 ½ years serving in leadership positions. That includes working as a Chief of Staff for the CEO of Red Ventures and running human capital for all the sales side of our business. With Red Ventures, about 75 percent of the employees are sales professionals. [More than a] year ago Ric [Elias] started Road to Hire. I had experience in training, development, and leadership, so I begged him to let me run his nonprofit. I exist out of the Red Ventures campuses, but [since] I’m the Road to Hire director, I run the program.
CW: When you were in high school, what did you think you wanted to do?
CM: I could never have imagined it. Ric talks a lot about this; we’re always dropping dots, [and] you never realize when it’s happening, but when you look back and realize how all these dots are connected and how all the things you learn get you to where you are supposed to be. I had ideas of things I wanted to do and failed a lot. I think it’s extremely necessary to get to where I am now, to screw stuff up. If that’s all you need to be successful, I’m going to be a millionaire (laughs).
CW: Talk about the Road to Hire program. What is it? How do you play a role in work-based learning overall?
CM: In its simplest form, what we do is we pay, train, and place motivated young adults [ages] 18 to 25 in high demand jobs. We know that if you go to college that’s a game changer; but if you can’t afford college you shouldn’t not have opportunity. Although we respect those who serve, in terms of military service, it kind of seems like you either go to college, you go to the military, or go to a low skilled or low growth job. So, what we do is we pay motivated young adults and teach them about professional development. How do you differentiate and distinguish yourself in a workplace environment; and public speaking, giving and receiving feedback, [being] coachable, and teamwork. That’s season one.
Season two is we teach them a skill. Skill one is tech. We teach people how to [become] software engineers or front-end developers. There are at least 17,000 tech jobs in North Carolina and the median wage for a software engineer is $100,000 a year. It’s a great career and college doesn’t matter. The second track is we teach people how to be sales professionals.
My story started with sales. Sales is not sitting in a parking lot with a plaid jacket on. Sales is harnessing your persuasive abilities to help, improve; or affect an outcome. If you’re an entrepreneur or a leader, then you need to know how to be persuasive, how to sit across from someone and understand their needs, their wants, their aversions. Help them get to whatever their end destination or goal is, and sometimes make recommendations for what a good destination might be. That’s going to grow by at least 10 percent in North Carolina over the next 10 years. There are always jobs. The median wage is $75,000 in North Carolina for a sales professional. That’s how we fit into the equation. Our goal is to really work with motivated young adults across our region in a very immersive environment. When you talk about work-based learning it’s a great concept. You introduce concepts, people do them, they get up to speed and they can become successful. I like work-based learning because when you flip the definition or the terminology, it requires that you put the work in. We can only provide half of the equation; the motivation has to be there. The last thing I’ll say is you need to be motivated, [between the ages of] 18 to 25, and you need to have graduated from high school.
CW: How did you learn about Charlotte Works and the Youth Business Connector?
CM: Charlotte Works serves an integral and meaningful purpose; which means you are the convener of people. So, when we first started, everybody said Charlotte Works is seeking to be this bridge between individuals and organizations that are trying to lift up our community. As it relates to the Youth Business Connector and being where Charlotte Works exists and a lot of the recruiting events that you guys go to, we want to be a part of that and be at the table.
I think the problem in Charlotte with mobility is [the intentions are good, but] everyone is taking desperate actions to solve the same problem. We’re dead last in economic mobility, so everybody scrambles like a bunch of cockroaches in the light. We’re all trying to figure it out in silos. What Charlotte Works has the capacity to do, and what you are doing, is to organize all of us around a mandate and get us on the same page. We don’t want to build an empire, we just want to take Ric’s luck and run with it so that Red Ventures and Road to Hire have a place at the table. It’s not just about writing a check, we have to involve ourselves in the solutions. We have impacted [more than] 130 lives. In a year, it will be closer to 300 lives.
CW: Are they in cohorts?
CM: We’ll on-board cohorts. We run at least a sales cohort a month and those are at least 15 to 17 people cohorts. We currently run one tech cohort a year.
CW: How does placement work?
CM: When an individual graduates [from Road to Hire], and right now 75 percent of people graduate, [but] we want that to be higher. Red Ventures is our primary partner and they have agreed to take 100 percent of those who graduate. Red Ventures will employ those individuals.
It’s important to talk about data. From our first sales cohort, 100 percent of them are still here, which is incredible for sales. They are out performing on compliance and how ethically they sell. They are outperforming on attendance, and how often they show up for work. We have people who are under 21 that are pacing to make $75,000 a year.
On the tech side, we already have people who have moved into management and leadership positions from our first cohorts. These guys are averaging in their first year of employment about $45,000 but we know that their ceiling is so much higher. Some of these guys are running businesses alone, and they have a lot of responsibility. So, placement right now is exclusively with Red Ventures, but the intention is that we bring in some bigger players in the next six to twelve months. We want data to take to these guys to say, “hey, these are how our people perform and this is why you should take a chance on them.”
CW: Thinking about the Charlotte area, how much do you look towards what types of jobs are coming to the city to line it up with the curriculum?
CM: I think that’s the important thing about being partnered with Red Ventures. Any organization for profit need to stay relevant. They dictate to us the things that really matter and that helps us stay current. A lot of the programs that are out there are great, but do they have resources from an organization to validate them?
As we think about partners, we are hearing from a lot of people about what they would want if we started another academy. So right now, cyber security and desktop support are extremely in demand. Cyber security is extremely important because there’s a lot of customer data being floated around, and it helps organizations make decisions, but it also could compromise a person’s credit score. These things matter if we want an internet of things.
CW: If you needed to talk about the advocacy side of why and what you all are doing is important, what would you say?
CM: To advocate on behalf of the types of things that Charlotte Works is doing and that we’re doing and Siemens and Bosch Rexroth [is doing], the data doesn’t lie. When you invest in a motivated amazing young adult or even an established adult who needs a new track, we know that they are more likely to retain. With the young adult segment, you’re going to have a longer lasting employee with more headroom, more potential.
With for-profit entities, it’s entirely symbiotic. I was speaking with someone at a major financial institution and they said “Chandler, the thing about this is we’re going to get someone who’s going to last longer, and who’s going to grow with us. [Someone] who’s going to care about us because we took a bet on them. The other side of the coin is our employees feel proud to work at an organization that lifts up wonderful motivated people that didn’t get a chance.” You can’t underestimate how important that is for people at Red Ventures.
When Ric announced that we were doing this, we got at least 100 emails on the first day. At any given time, there are 50 people who are taking time out of their work, out of their life, just to support our program. We’re not forcing anyone to do this. Beyond the fact that you’re going to get an employee, and they are a junior; and you’re saving a bit of money on that, but they wind up becoming better and stronger and more invested. You’re cultivating a movement in our community. Where we graduate one person, we graduate five people because their family, everyone around them gets lifted up. So, I think as opposed to speaking to the advocacy, [the question is]: why wouldn’t you do this? The numbers make this a very easy decision. They need to do more than just cut checks. They need to get involved in the solution.
Part of Charlotte Works’ Careers4All initiative includes ensuring all youth and young adults are career ready. We seek to increase employer engagement in curriculum development and youth, as well as increase employer engagement and awareness of opportunities for those with barriers to employment. Explore our website to learn more about the work of Charlotte Works.