In 1996, my software company, Candle Corporation, became involved in a project called Rebuild LA – under then-mayor Tom Bradley.
Working with an inner-city charter school named Foshay Learning Center, we established a program called “PC Works” to get inner city youth involved in business activities. Many of these students went on to attend college and build careers in the computer software industry.
Look around the offices of Candle Corp., a software company based in El Segundo, Calif., and you’ll notice something about the workforce. Nearly 10 percent of the employees are teenagers. And not just any teenagers – these are kids from some of Los Angeles’ most worn-down neighborhoods, the ones who were supposed to have been left out of the digital future. Instead, they are testing software, mastering Java and rebooting servers alongside seasoned tech workers.
Another tepid experiment in corporate do-goodism? Sure, PC Works, Candle’s teen-apprentice program, is about diversifying the workforce and providing jobs to a needy population. But it’s also about creating a high-tech job pool and saving on temp workers. Candle founder and CEO Aubrey Chernick, like many of his peers, is acutely aware that the industry faces a severe labor shortage that’s likely to get worse. Unlike his peers, Chernick is taking matters into his own hands. […]
“A lot of companies are kind of leery” about hiring high school kids, says Maury, who has piqued the interest of other firms, though none has yet followed Candle’s lead. “Our first line of attack is selling it as corporate citizenship. If they don’t buy in there, we show them the dollars and cents.”
PC Works and other programs were very gratifying. Over a five-year period, we had about 60 teens involved. Some worked in legal, others worked in information technology. Many of these inner city students told us how they were initially terrified to even come into a high-rise business complex outside the inner city (we were located near the Los Angeles Airport, in El Segundo). But overtime they built up their confidence and their skills!