How KindWork trains and graduates underserved students into Customer Experience jobs using Zendesk
Jeanine Mendez knows all too well that her successful career wasn’t a given. Her family immigrated to the U.S. from Bolivia when she was very young and settled into a low-income community in Rhode Island.
“Growing up, I didn’t see a path for myself to college. I was lucky to be able to do career training in high school. I met a mentor, landed in school, and benefited from the supports for first-generation college grads,” she said.
Ultimately, she pursued a career in the tech sector, working at companies like Deloitte, GE, and Uber where “there was a deep belief that no matter what your background, if you work hard enough, you could progress super quick.”
At Uber, Mendez led a team of customer service agents and was always looking for talent with digital and technical skills. Recognizing that not everyone from communities like the one she had grown up in were equipped to pursue careers like this, Mendez wanted to bring those two worlds together.
She made that happen by joining forces with Kate Doyle, a former educator, to co-found KindWork, a non-profit organization that helps talented young people of color from overlooked communities in the metro New York City area launch new careers in the innovation economy.
KindWork offers free career training, coaching, and job placement support to low-income young people, ages 20 to 26, who are disconnected from work and school.
“Our students are often earning less than $5,000 to $6,000 a year. Many haven’t had the opportunity to attain a college degree and have been out of work or have a spotty resume. They are also limited in digital skills that will enable them to apply for jobs in the tech sector,” said Doyle.
Students get 250 hours of full-time career training in just over 6 weeks. Although the first cohort of students learned in person, the pandemic forced other cohorts to learn at home. Now, KindWork operates with a hybrid training model, with remote instruction and in-person professional skills development.
“Most of our curriculum is based on technology so we can teach remotely. And it prepares them for the job they’re going to have, which will likely be remote,” said Mendez.
“Many of our students live in busy, multigenerational households. We provided loaner laptops and upgraded Internet connections so they could connect using Zoom and use the different learning versions of our program. And we partnered with WeWork so students without a quiet place to work at home would have somewhere to go.”
“Most of our curriculum is based on technology so we can teach remotely. And it prepares them for the job they’re going to have, which will likely be remote.”
Jeanine Mendez, KindWork co-founder
When students graduate from their training, the KindWork team helps them find a full-time job in the tech sector.
“We have 50 employer partners in the New York City area who are trying to grow a more diverse talent pipeline for their entry-level roles. These are suitable job placements for our grads and they often lead to progressive careers,” said Doyle.
Photo credit: KindWork
“All of our fellows earn that job just like everyone else by going through the interview process and getting a job offer.”
Once students are in a job, KindWork provides career coaching for their first year. “This is important for the population we work with. Most of them are the first person from their household to work in tech. A lot of times they are the first office worker in their household.”
This wrap-around service helps fellows manage the ups and downs of employment and supports them so they can focus on staying motivated at work. “The coaching program has led to terrific job retention numbers of our graduates,” said Mendez.
It’s also rewarding for Doyle and Mendez. “We see a noticeable difference in how our [former students] carry themselves once they’ve been in the sector for 3-6 months. A graduate from our first cohort was able to take a vacation in New Orleans. She had never had a vacation before. It was possible because she was in a stable, successful job.”
Zendesk is a key component of the training program
A priority for their training program is to teach young adults how to run CX software, specifically Zendesk.
“We teach our students the Zendesk platform because if you look at all the customer support jobs in NYC, at least 50% to 75% will say ‘Zendesk skills preferred’. If you know how to use Zendesk and can put that on a resume, it will propel you pretty far. We consciously built our program to prepare students to become Zendesk masters,” said Mendez.
When KindWork was getting started in 2019, they reached out to Zendesk’s Tech for Good program to propose a partnership. The Tech for Good program gave Mendez and Doyle 15 licenses. The duo created the fake company Shoes for All and set up all the support services, databases, and policies and procedures required to efficiently serve “customers” in Zendesk. In class, students learn to interact with customers, answer tickets, and troubleshoot real-life issues that come up in customer support.
“We didn’t want to just show them a system, we wanted them to be able to work in it,” said Mendez.
“We teach our students the Zendesk platform because if you look at all the customer support jobs in NYC, at least 50% to 75% will say ‘Zendesk skills preferred.’ If you know how to use Zendesk and can put that on a resume, it will propel you pretty far.”
Jeanine Mendez, KindWork co-founder
Thanks to their rigorous training, many graduates who are successfully employed say their colleagues often come to them for help.
KindWork makes use of the full suite of Zendesk products and has expanded to 26 licenses. “This is not something a non-profit would typically be able to afford. With Tech for Good, we’re able to do more good work like limit our program fees, provide cash assistance to fellows, and offer things like Internet upgrades and equipment,” said Doyle.
To date, KindWork has graduated 75 participants across six cohorts and in the coming 12 months, they will serve more than 90 young adults through training, job placement, and coaching in the metro NYC area. “Our hope is that with each year that passes, our name brand with employers will grow stronger and we will become the first stop for any customer success/CX leader role,” said Mendez.
For her personally, the program has proven to be more fulfilling than she’d ever imagined.
“Every time we finish up a cohort and people start getting jobs, it’s amazing. Every time someone gets a job, it feels like I just got a job. And I get to feel that for 15 students every couple of months.”