Kim Owens | Crain's Phoenix

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kim Owens


Year Up Arizona is a nonprofit job-training program that launched in 2015 to connect low-income young adults with livable-wage careers. Students ages 18 to 24 take six-month classes on professional and technical skills classes that teach everything from how to shake hands to how to fix a computer. Classes are followed by a six-month internship at a top employer, such as GoDaddy, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and more. Locally, 89 percent of Year Up graduates are employed or attending college within four months of completing the program, with average starting salaries of $34,653 per year.

The Mistake:

Treating the internship as just an internship.

In the 1990s, I was interning at the San Diego Convention Center. I was a journalism major and someone who hadn’t yet ventured into the professional world. Like most interns, my experience was pretty minimal. Yet, I had this big dream of converting the internship into a job.

Internships are important, which is why we put about 5,000 young adults a year into internships at Year Up. My internship at the Convention Center was typical; many go-nowhere, do-nothing tasks. The mistake was treating the internship as just an internship.

When an opening appeared, I was selected from a group of candidates to interview, which I think was a courtesy. When I sat in the interview, I was surprised by the panel of people that were in front of me. I was shocked by the questions and what they expected me to know.

You have to manage and leverage the experiences put in front of you.

The Lesson:

The lesson that I impart to our young adults is that I didn’t use the experience or time well enough to understand the company, what drove it, or how my role and my team were relevant.

I teach our students that you really have to leverage the experience to learn all you can about adding value to the company. It’s not only about how they do it for their key stakeholders but how do you look at each department? What drives your organization? You have to understand your relevance and the role you play in that organization.

That lesson didn’t go away. As an executive, my journey has always been about articulating my values and being able to demonstrate them – not by telling good stories, but by showing the evidence that I’m contributing value to the organization.

Knowing that you’re part of a team and that your team is part of an organization and that your organization is part of an ecosystem is a critical way of thinking about how to keep your team contributing to the company.

At Year Up, our job is to guide young adults who don’t have the traditional path. We hear a lot of, “It’s who you know.” Well, the young adults we serve don’t know anybody. So, we have to go to Plan B. You have to work hard, but that’s not enough. You have to manage and leverage the experiences put in front of you, the doors that open. You have to be intentional about the experience to achieve the outcome that you want.

That directly relates to what we teach every day at Year Up.

Follow Year Up Arizona on Twitter at @YearUpAZ.

Photo courtesy of Kim Owens

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