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Disrupting the Status Quo through Purpose Driven Paychecks

A teacher works with two students

Liz Williams


Earlier this spring, Greater Twin Cities United Way shared news about Purpose Driven Paychecks, our new $400,000 funding opportunity through Career Academies. As we conclude this school year and look ahead to the next, I am honored to announce our partners and the innovative and equity-centered approaches they are taking to ensure all students in Minnesota have access to wealth-building, purpose-driven work experiences.

About Purpose Driven Paychecks

Purpose Driven Paychecks (PDP) is a funding opportunity to catalyze school-business partnerships to fill the gaps that exist in our current school-to-employment ecosystem. Our vision is that all students in Minnesota can access wealth-building, purpose-driven work experiences aligned with the career pathway of their choice.

We know that a successful career pathways strategy includes high-quality work experiences for youth that are aligned within a specific industry pathway, allowing for youth to advance in one career field or transition to another, all while increasing pay or experience.

Since our work began in 2015, the education field has made progress in aligning work and career pathways, but there remains a gap. Our current system often misses an opportunity to align academic and work experiences around a student’s individual interests, strengths and career aspirations. Our youth tell us time and again: They are looking for paychecks, but more than ever they are looking for purpose in the work they do.

The Purpose Driven Paychecks funded partners bring a deep focus on students furthest from justice in the education system: Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and Students of Color, students with disabilities and students from low-income households. Many of the organizations in these partnerships intentionally and unapologetically provide culturally specific approaches and supportive work environments for young people who may be navigating their first formal work experience. The funds and technical assistance received through PDP will catalyze these types of supportive experiences into a sustainable infrastructure that will remain long after grant funding has ended.

Our Vision in Action

Purpose Driven Paychecks will support work experiences for over 400 students, with 245 new students receiving jobs. Of the students served, over 80 percent are Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and Students of Color, students with a disability and/or students from low-income households.

Partnerships offer industry aligned certifications like Digital Literacy, Mine Safety or Certified Nursing Assistant. These certifications all track to high-wage, high-demand careers projected to grow in the funded partner’s local area. According to one of our partners, “If we want to meaningfully challenge the persistent economic disparities that confront communities across Minnesota, it is crucial to build pipelines to economic success that disrupt the status quo.”

Here are just a few examples of how PDP partners are working to create high-quality, culturally relevant work experiences for youth furthest from justice.

Chinese American Chamber of Commerce: “Let's Get IT” is a unique, culturally specific partnership between the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Asian Media Access and Hmong College Prep Academy. Focused on Asian American and Pacific Islander youth, students from Hmong College Prep's IT pathway will access training and internship placement in web development through Asian Media Access and culturally relevant entrepreneurship training through the Chinese Chamber.

Native Skywatchers: Native Skywatchers in an innovative partnership with Mankato Area Public Schools that expands a Science-Art-Culture pathway for American Indian students centering Indigenous culture and positive identity development. This partnership supports students through a culturally affirming learning experience, then progresses to hire them as after school leaders for middle school students. The experience also includes focused support for students to engage in the district’s many career pathways opportunities.

Genesys Works: Genesys Works partners with multiple Twin Cities area school districts. Genesys Works serves students in multiple suburban districts and has many long-standing employer partners including Optum, Medtronic and Target. Utilizing Purpose Driven Paycheck funds, they will develop a new approach to their year-long internships that supports a cohort of African American youth through culturally affirming career pathways experiences.

What’s Next

The nine funded partners for PDP begin programming this summer. As part of the award, our partners will come together to share best practices, challenges and learn from one another. These learnings will inform a second round of PDP funding in Spring 2023 and contribute to the broader Career Academies strategy that seeks to create seamless transitions for youth as they move from high school to post-secondary learning.

Funded Partners

The following organizations comprise our first cohort of Purpose Driven Paychecks partners:

  • Chinese American Chamber of Commerce
  • Genesys Works TC
  • Itasca Area Schools Collaborative
  • Ka Joog
  • Native Skywatchers
  • New Vision Foundation
  • MPS Transitions Plus
  • Reve Academy
  • St. Louis Park Public Schools

About the Author

Liz Williams is a Senior Program Officer for Career Academies, collaborating with school districts and partners to reimagine school systems as a lever for community wealth building. She has taught and worked in both urban and rural communities in New Mexico and Minnesota and is a licensed teacher. She received her Bachelor of Arts from University of Minnesota and her Master of Education Policy and Management from Harvard.

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