With Bridge to Employment, Johnson & Johnson is 30 Years Ahead of the Curve on Social Programming

By Amanda McMahon, Director of College and Career Readiness, FHI 360 National Institute for Work and Learning, and Lisa Suits, Senior Communications Specialist, FHI 360 National Institute for Work and Learning

The health, economic, and racial justice crises of 2020 may represent an inflection point in how some members of the philanthropic sector – non-profits, volunteer organizations, congregations, foundations, associations, and corporates – allocate their giving. There are signs that organizations are shifting their focus or practices in response to these events. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are becoming more central today, and we can see it in the recent headlines of philanthropic newsletters and publications.

  • “ Beyond Equity: Targeted Universalism and the Closing of the Racial Wealth Gap” (Nonprofit Quarterly, January 19, 2022)
  • “As Asian Hate Crimes Continue, Nearly $10 Million Flows to Groups Fighting the Attacks” (Chronicle of Philanthropy, March 15, 2022)
  • “Rockefeller Starts Ambitious Effort to Produce Nutritious Food With Climate and Diversity in Mind” (Chronicle of Philanthropy March 24, 2022)
  • “From Ally to Co-conspirator: How organizations can further their commitment to racial equity” (Philanthropy News Digest, March 28, 2022)
  • “Now is the time for philanthropy to be bold” (PhilanTopic, April 11, 2022)

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs have diverse goals and objectives depending on the context. Within a company they can include allowing people to bring their whole selves to work, celebrating differences, seeking new perspectives, erasing harmful past behaviors and policies, and giving opportunities to support underrepresented groups, among others. In society at large, the goals center on inclusion; raising new voices; developing opportunities to participate and be heard; increasing understanding, collaboration, and growth; building trust; developing skills and knowledge; reducing barriers; increasing access; and opening new doors.

FHI 360’s National Institute for Work and Learning (NIWL) has had the privilege of working with the corporate philanthropy/community impact arm of Johnson & Johnson (J&J), a company that — for 30 years — has been committed to improving DEI. Its Bridge To Employment program (BTE) inspires young people 14 – 18 years old to stay in school, excel academically, and elevate their career aspirations. Launched in 1992, BTE helps young people residing in under-resourced communities, the majority of whom are women and/or people of color, build solid futures and makes learning meaningful, engaging, and relevant. BTE strives to:

  • Increase the number of youth who enroll in post-secondary education, and
  • Increase the number of youth pursuing careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Manufacturing, and Design (STEM2D) or healthcare sectors.

Through academic enrichment activities, career readiness and exploration opportunities, and higher education preparation, BTE students are exposed to various careers, motivated to pursue higher levels of academic progress, and take the steps necessary to build a better future to achieve their full potential.

Yezenia Ramos, Johnson & Johnson’s Senior Manager of Employee Engagement, Global Community Impact, weighs in on the goals, impact, and future of BTE:

By the end of 2021, entering BTE’s 30th year, NIWL had helped J&J launch BTE programs in 102 communities in 24 countries (including 67 U.S. sites across 14 states) since its inception. The BTE model relies on corporate volunteers at a J&J site to engage with students locally and mentor them in college and career readiness skills. NIWL works with the local J&J volunteer teams to develop customized approaches to best meet the needs of the students and local school systems. Our programming centers on:

  • Academic Enrichment: Activities that enhance participants’ understanding of STEM subjects and connect these subjects to the real world.
  • Career Readiness and Exploration: Activities introduce participants to the world of work, prepare them for professional environments, and show them a variety of career options.
  • Higher Education Awareness and Preparation: Activities prepare participants to explore, apply for, pay for, and thrive in higher education.
  • Youth Leadership. Activities encourage participants to lead locally and globally.

The BTE model gives J&J a triple win. First, it helps society by increasing the students’ academic achievement and sparking their interest in high demand professions. In an average year, 98% of BTE students complete high school and 89% of BTE graduates plan to go on to two- or four-year colleges. BTE leverages pro-bono work using employee skillsets to advance social impact goals. Society as a whole benefits with more diverse, STEM-educated future workers and problem solvers.

Second, 91% of the employee volunteers indicate enhanced skills in leadership, communication, team building, public speaking, coaching, mentoring, and other professional skills they can use in their corporate life. Many volunteers report finding a passion for giving back to the community and great satisfaction in their volunteer role, going beyond the 9-5. Because of BTE, they feel much more relevant and connected to the community in which they work.

Third, the Johnson & Johnson volunteers become loyal employees who have a sense of pride in their company, contributing to retention. Fully 81% of volunteers say they are more likely to stay at J&J because of these volunteer opportunities. Johnson & Johnson is visible in the community via the volunteers who are recognized for their contributions to students’ futures.

J&J’s BTE model marries community engagement with employee engagement in a strategic, intentional, and inclusive way. It is also a pioneer in stepping up to issues that would not have been touched 30 or even 20 years ago.

In today’s climate, we are seeing other large companies make statements and financial commitments to advance DEI in their communities and locations. They, too, are marrying up employee engagement with community engagement in new ways, bringing benefits to their companies, their community, students, and their employees.

J&J executives have told NIWL that they want to engage with peer organizations to collaborate on how to reach more kids in the United States and globally. NIWL’s newest corporate partners (all Fortune 500 companies) are picking up that charge and looking to replicate the same sort of impact with a similar philanthropic model.

We are excited to celebrate BTE 30 Years and cannot wait to see what the future holds.

*

Visit the BTE 30-year timeline!