In 2020, African Americans made up 12.4% of the total population of the United States. However, only 8% were part of the professional workforce, a percentage that has remained stagnant since 2013. That statistic is due, in part, to the fact that 80% of working-age African Americans don’t have a four-year college degree, which is often a barrier for professional employment at many companies. However, one startup organization is trying to change companies’ perceptions, encouraging hiring managers to reevaluate job qualifications and open more professional positions to non-college-degree-holding African Americans.
OneTen is an initiative that focuses on training African American candidates for corporate roles. Conceived by leaders of companies like Merck, IBM, Amgen, General Catalyst and Recognize, this initiative connects employers with African American workers with the ultimate goal of creating one million jobs for African Americans over the next 10 years. To date, the initiative has backing from 37 companies, received support from business moguls like Robert F. Smith on social media and raised over $100 million in funding.
Set to launch in early 2021, OneTen will focus on helping African Americans with high school diplomas and certifications other than college degrees find family-sustaining jobs that offer opportunities for promotion and career growth. OneTen’s work will include facilitating the necessary training from nonprofits, community colleges and credentialing organizations. From there, the companies that are a part of the initiative would commit to hiring the trainees once training is complete.
For the CEOs who have joined OneTen, the initiative is also an acknowledgment that any efforts that they have taken in the past for diverse inclusion haven’t made a meaningful difference for African Americans. “What brought people together is that they looked at our country and said, it’s this generation of CEOs who don’t want to pass this down to the next generation,” stated Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck and a founder of the initiative.
With that in mind, the goal of OneTen is not solely to connect companies with qualified African Americans or provide job training but also to improve how companies hire so that they can address the lack of American American representation.
“OneTen links our companies with the critical work we know we need to do to improve racial equity in America,” said Ginni Rometty, executive chairman at IBM and another founder of the startup. “This will not only help our individual companies, but by removing structural barriers that have disproportionately hindered Black Americans from joining the middle-class, it will also help lift all Americans. By bringing together a coalition of key leaders and asking them to make long-term commitments, we have the ability to change employment practices and help break down systemic barriers opening the door to full participation in our economy.”
OneTen plans to announce a CEO soon and will set up offices in cities across the country to spread their initiative.
Robert F. Smith’s Support for Job Training
While the education of African Americans and members of other minority groups has always been at the forefront of Robert F. Smith’s philanthropic ambitions, Smith also values the importance of job training among underrepresented groups, whether they have a degree or not. That is why, aside from endorsing OneTen, Smith has committed his support to internXL. Supported by Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is Founding Director and President, internXL connects highly qualified, pre-screened individuals of all backgrounds with employers and companies in a range of industries. This allows youth to get the training they need before tackling their careers in everything from technology to finance to marketing.
In December of 2020, Smith also made a donation of $1 million to the National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants, Inc. (NSBCPA) to help support their NSBCPA Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Exam Review Program for Black Accounting Students. Known as NSBCPA CPA Breakthrough, the program will provide all of the tools necessary to help African American students pass their CPA exams with flying colors and secure a job in their field.
In the past, Smith has been honored for his commitment to expanding educational and career opportunities for members of underrepresented groups by organizations who strive to do just that. For example, Smith was one of three to be awarded by Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, Inc. (SEO) at the 2017 SEO Annual Awards Dinner for his philanthropic and business endeavors. In September 2020, Smith also participated in SEO’s online Fireside Chat Series with Henry Kravis as part of SEO’s 2020 SEO Scholars Virtual Achievement Benefit, highlighting his current and past efforts.
Learn about other ways Robert F. Smith is encouraging workforce diversity.