We sat down with Ajit Vakharia, President and CEO of Flare Education, to learn more about this high school workforce development non-profit that's focused on assisting under resourced communities. Read on to learn what makes Flare Education so unique, why high schoolers are a key demographic for these types of programs, and how Acceleration Partners and other companies are partnering with this organization to make a difference in workforce diversity.
Tell me about Flare Education, when was this non-profit founded and what is its mission?
Flare Education is a high school workforce development non-profit based in the greater Boston area. Founded in early 2021, our mission is to tackle generational poverty through high school workforce development.
We connect schools in under resourced communities with companies and organizational partners to provide students with immersive work experience that will help them be successful in their future careers and give them the building blocks for creating a life of generational wealth. Our goal is for 100% of our kids to have a job and consistent employment in a career that's paying them above $30/hour (which is about $60,000/year) by the time they're 30 years old.
What makes Flare Education such a unique non-profit?
Very few high school programs offer comprehensive workforce development experience. At Flare Education, we do a combination of trainings, field trips, mentorship, and summer internships—all over the course of three years.
Students enter a program in which they can get first-hand experience in a career-driven field, along with skillsets they can begin using immediately in their lives. They also make money over the course of the entire program, not just during the summer internships. Students earn up to $6,500 during each year of the program.
When it comes to working with companies, Flare Education collaborates with partners to co-design projects in which student interns will thrive. We also help prepare students for internships by going over workplace etiquette, how to be successful on Zoom, and many other skillsets they need to succeed.
From a community perspective, we focus on Title 1 schools and generationally poor areas that don't have the resources and time to teach students workforce development. We provide them with a network of employer partners, toolkits, and best practices that can fit into existing school infrastructures.
Why focus on high school-aged students for this kind of workforce development program?
When you look at the current workforce in our society, you see a lack of diversity. This gap is coming from a lack of equity in our education system; it's very clearly linked. You'll also see that a kid growing up in a Title 1 public school has an even steeper uphill battle to climb—about only 1 in 10 kids from Title 1 schools end up in consistent employment that pays $60,000 or more a year by the time they're 30 years old.
That's because high schoolers in these under resourced communities are faced with an increasing number of challenges before even entering the workforce—they often don't have the same opportunities extended to them, mentors or professional networks, parents or guardians with experience to guide them through career journeys, and many don't feel like they even belong in a corporate environment.
At Flare Education, we recognize the workforce development process needs to start earlier. You can make interventions in high school and take kids who might ordinarily fall off the career path, and instead get them the experience they need to get that well-paying job by 30. If you wait until a student is 18 or older, you miss a number of key steps. We believe the core issue exists as young as high school and middle school.
We have the wonderful intern Hani currently working with us at AP, and she's been a great fit. How do you go about pairing up students with companies?
We start off by using identity maps with each student—with Flare Education staff, mentors, and teachers filling out these assessments over time to help us understand what the high schoolers are going to be most interested in doing. We then couple these with the student's own self-assessments about what types of careers they want exposure to, so as to paint a comprehensive career path picture. Most importantly, we learn over time by giving them multiple opportunities to showcase their interests and skills.
Over the course of the first year, we try to figure out what each student is interested in and then give them an initial job experience. From there, we fine tune the search by trial and error. If they really love a job, we dial in and try to narrow down the type of work or type of company they are excited about. If they don't love a job, we move on and look for a better fit.
It's all about bringing several different components into play and giving students as much exposure and experience as possible so that they can find career paths that are good potential fits.
What sort of skills are you hoping students develop during these experiences?
One of the fundamental outcomes we try to achieve at Flare Education is providing our students with assets in the form of workforce training and the durable human and technical skills that go along with that. When you equip kids with these skills—many of whom go through trauma at some point in their young lives—it reopens doors for them to combat the trauma and allows them to think more broadly about what's in front of them.
We find that it's important to take all the best practices around social-emotional learning and how kids develop, and couple those understandings with career exposure and workforce development. As these skills and assets build up over time, students gain an advanced perception of themselves and what it means to be a working professional.
If there was one thing you'd want companies to take away from this, what would it be?
As a company, you can't build a diverse, inclusive work culture and talent pool unless you understand that the root cause starts earlier than adults entering the workforce. At the core of this issue is the fact that our educational system is lacking support from companies, and we need companies to step up and intervene.
However, many companies (like Acceleration Partners) have done this and are rethinking how they're directly involved in the education system. The reality is that by the time a kid reaches 18, the level of career intervention you can have is less significant in comparison to the impact you can have on students in high school, or even middle school.
We need companies and people invested in giving high school students employment experience and empowering their development—that's what we want every company to take away. How is your company working to solve the diversity crisis and helping school districts think about the future of work?
Lastly, where can companies interested in getting involved go to learn more?
Check out our website to learn more about our vision, where we see our non-profit headed in the next few years, and how your company can make a difference.
"Acceleration Partners is honored to partner with Flare Education during their pilot partnership program," said Suparna Basu-Ravis, AP's Chief People Officer. "The model Ajit and his team have created provides under resourced high school students with opportunities they traditionally aren't getting exposure to in their current interactions. Our partnership with Flare Education is extremely important and valuable to us. It provides our organization with access to diverse, emerging talent, while creating a pipeline for the future. At AP, Hani (our current Flare Education intern) is exposed to various areas within Marketing, gaining experience into meaningful projects and building professional development through real-world initiatives. One key differentiator with Flare's program is that it establishes a feedback loop with its student and AP to ensure their interns' success and the ability to pivot and intervene if needed in real time."