LA2050 Grants Challenge applications are open now through June 28th, 2024.
2023 Grants Challenge

Connecting underemployed graduates to meaningful careers

Idea by COOP Careers

COOP matches peer cohorts of underemployed college grads with near-peer alumni coaches to support them in building the professional skills and networks they need to get their first good job after graduation. This grant will help propel 400 motivated first-generation and low-income college graduates in Los Angeles into upwardly mobile careers in the digital economy, earning upwards of $50,000 one year post graduation.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Income Inequality

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

City of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

One year out of college, half of all first-gen and low-income college grads will be un-/underemployed and two-thirds will remain so 5 years later. People who are underemployed earn $10k less per year than folks who are appropriately employed. Unsurprisingly, there are significant differences by race. The uneven distribution of underemployment helps explain how college fails to close the income gap or secure Black (& Hispanic) wealth. Informal relationships also dominate our labor market. At least a third of U.S. workers secured their current job through a referral, and some put that figure as high as 70-85%. According to LinkedIn, applicants with an employee referral are 9 times more likely to be hired. Underemployed grads have the skills and drive to succeed, but they don't have someone to pull them into a meaningful career. Even in the digital economy, a bachelor's degree is not enough. We need social capital-connections, casual favors, timely referrals-as much as we need skills.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

To overcome underemployment we need to emphatically and intentionally facilitate peer connections. COOP matches peer cohorts of underemployed college grads with near-peer alumni coaches to support them in building the professional skills and networks they need to get their first good job after graduation. For 16 weeks (200 hours) peer cohorts of 16 motivated grads meet nightly to learn technical skills, meet potential employers, and build community to jump start upwardly mobile careers. The curriculum introduces participants to the hard skills (e.g., SEO, Tableau, Salesforce) and soft skills (e.g., time management, communication) of each industry and provides guidance and support as they search for that good first job. Four near-peer alumni lead each cohort, teaching the curriculum and serving as mentors and guides. Our alumni captains are backed by a social work team that provides wraparound support. Our Partnerships team connects COOPers to full-time upwardly mobile careers by building meaningful relationships with employers. We established our LA site in 2020 and since then have grown our local alumni community to over 300 strong. With this proposal, we seek to further extend our LA growth, connecting more un-/underemployed college graduates to meaningful careers and propelling them onto a path of economic mobility. We expect to serve at least 400 participants through our flagship program in LA between Fall 2023 and Fall 2024.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

In the near-term, our targets for our 2023 and 2024 cohorts and alumni will be consistent with their predecessors: 90-95% program completion and 80% of alumni fully employed within 6-12 months, earning at least $50,000 in year one. In the long-term, to achieve our mission, we need to move into real "systems change" work. Formalizing partnerships with higher education institutions is key in effecting systems change. In LA County, our aspiration would be to develop a formalized partnership with a higher education institution to better support the college-to-career transition for its first-generation and low-income college graduates. By proving the effectiveness of these partnerships, we can demonstrate the impact of COOP's promising alumni-powered model and intervention. Our long-term vision is that this model could be adopted as a new modality of career and alumni services that could ensure thousands of first-generation and low-income graduates in LA county achieve upward mobility.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Our intervention for underemployed grads has produced compelling wage outcomes for hundreds of individuals in LA. Our LA alumni are earning a median yearly salary of $53,000 (according to the MIT, the living wage for a single adult living in LA County is about $44,100). Alumni have secured roles such as Digital Marketing Account Coordinator and Client Solutions Planner, among many others. One LA alum, who works as a Search Media Buyer, shared the following: "COOP has been such an invaluable resource for me. As I embarked on a new chapter in my life, their support and guidance gave me the confidence to pursue new and exciting opportunities with ease. Not only that, but being a part of COOP allowed me to connect with a group of peers who were all facing similar challenges during the pandemic, providing a sense of community and solidarity. Thanks to COOP, I'm now more than ready to take on my current role with all the skills, confidence, and enthusiasm I need to succeed."

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 400

Indirect Impact: 750