Citi just invested $100 million in a program that provides training and mentorship to people without college degrees. Here's how it's boosting diversity at the firm.

  • The Citi Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the financial firm, recently announced a $100 million investment in its Pathways to Progress program, which provides workforce training, career advice, and mentorship opportunities to young people from marginalized backgrounds.
  • Business Insider spoke with one graduate of the program, who went on to land a cybersecurity job at Citi. She called Pathways to Progress a “blessing.”
  • In a time when corporate executives across the country are facing tough questions on how they’re going to combat inequity, Citi leaders are doubling down on investing in upskilling to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
  • Brandee McHale, head of community investing and development at Citi and president of the Citi Foundation, said it’s important to invest in young people of color during the the pandemic’s downturn.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Avneet Hall, a 33-year-old Indian immigrant to the US, never had any formal training in cybersecurity or engineering. She never completed her bachelor's degree, and faced limited job opportunities when she came to the states in 2015. 

After enrolling in an upskilling program funded by the Citi Foundation, the financial company's philanthropic arm, she completed several weeks of intensive cybersecurity bootcamps at partner organization NPower, a nonprofit that provides IT and tech training to young people and veterans. 

Soon after, she achieved certification in the technical field, and landed an internship at Citi. That internship turned into a full-time job as a cybersecurity specialist. Now, she's making six figures. 

"I'm so glad I did this. I have a really fulfilling career, it's pretty flexible too. It's been a blessing," Hall told Business Insider. 

Hall is one of hundreds of thousands of young people who've participated in Citi Foundation's Pathways to Progress, a program aimed at providing workforce training, career advice, and mentorship opportunities to young people from marginalized backgrounds. 

While not everyone achieves the same level of success as Hall, her story is an example of the power of providing nontraditional pathways to in-demand careers. 

For one, upskilling helps companies address the skills gap that exists between what businesses need from employees, and what employees are getting trained in. In 2017, McKinsey estimated that 14% of the global workforce would have to switch occupations or gain new skills by 2030 because of automation and artificial intelligence. 

Non-traditional learning options also provide people who can't afford an expensive college degree the opportunity at well-paying jobs. 

In a time when corporate executives are facing tough questions on how they're going to combat inequity, Citi leaders are doubling down on investing in upskilling, and it's not only helping young people, it's helping diversify the firm's workforce. 

In September, the Citi Foundation committed an additional $100 million to Pathways to Progress with the hopes of providing workforce training, mentorship, and/or employment opportunities to 1 million people by 2023. The news follows Citi's announcement that it's committing $1 billion toward closing the racial wealth gap in the US. 

Brandee McHale, head of community investing and development at Citi and president of the Citi Foundation, said the investment in the program comes at a critical time. 

"We're being really intentional and targeting our initiative towards young people of color for whom the impact of an economic downturn, the pandemic, is just so much more pronounced than they are for other populations," McHale told Business Insider. 

Indeed, Black youth are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed during the pandemic than white youth, Tufts University research conducted this summer found. 

Over the past three years, Citi's Pathways to Progress initiative has served approximately 100,000 Black and Latinx youth, offering them mentorship, skills training, and access to job opportunities. 

In addition to partnering with nonprofits focused on placing people from marginalized communities in jobs, Citi has committed to offering 10,000 people "work opportunities," which range from short-term job shadows, to internships, to full-time jobs at the company. 

It's also expanding its mentorship opportunities, asking thousands of its own employees to mentor youth, specifically youth of color. 

"It's not just simply about the skills that help a young person land a job, but we're also investing in programs that support young people throughout their careers," McHale told Business Insider. 

The program doesn't only benefit young people, it helps the company, too, the executive said. 

"There's real power and strength in diversity from a variety of angles, ethnic, racial diversity, but also diversity of experience. When we look at assembling really strong teams, that's what we want," the executive said. 

Other top companies are increasingly focused on upskilling as well. 

In 2019, IBM announced it's investing $1 billion in initiatives like apprenticeships and mentoring programs to train workers for what it calls "new collar" jobs. Amazon also announced in 2019 that it would invest $700 million in retraining its non-technical workers for new, in-demand jobs by 2025. 

PwC is planning on retraining and upskilling all of its workers, investing $3 billion in the initiative. And JPMorgan Chase added an additional $350 million to a preexisting $250 million plan to upskill their workforce in AI technology, focusing on workers from marginalized backgrounds.

"It's not just enough to have everybody advance, we really have to make sure that those who are at risk of being left farthest behind have the ability to advance at a much quicker pace," McHale told Business Insider. 

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