VoyageDenver: Meet Helen Young Hayes

Apr 12, 2021 | News, Press

[Originally posted by Voyage Denver, April 6, 2021]

Today we’d like to introduce you to Helen Young Hayes.

Hi Helen, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
Following a lifelong passion for poverty alleviation, I decided to dedicate the second half of my life to fighting poverty in Colorado. My vision is to create pathways out of poverty for low-income individuals through the dignity of work. I am the daughter of Chinese immigrants who came to the US on borrowed money and full scholarships. From modest beginnings, my parents embraced 

the opportunities found uniquely in America, received PhD’s, and settled in a small college town in Mississippi. Eventually, my parents sent four out of five kids to Yale, including me, a financial aid and work-study student! I graduated from Yale University, took the most interesting job I could find as an analyst on Wall Street, and ultimately became a global money manager. I am both the embodiment of and a passionate believer in the American dream. Growing up in the segregated South during the Civil Rights Movement, I witness the social and economic inequities in my hometown. This left a profound mark on me. When my husband Matt and I married, we made an enduring commitment to serving people in poverty. And in 2016, frustrated with the growing inequity in the US and the fading of the American dream, I launched Activate Workforce Solutions to not simply alleviate poverty but to end poverty for people in Denver.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Life is full of headwinds and tailwinds! Having two parents with PhD’s was definitely a blessing; intellectual curiosity and academic success were programmed into our family. Growing up in a Chinese home with parents who modeled work ethic, discipline and excellence was also a gift. Although I landed on Wall Street, where even today 98% of assets are managed by men, I had male mentors who pushed for my success. And I was too busy doing what I loved to let my youth, my gender or my race hold me back. My biggest challenge was surviving a commercial airline disaster with the crash-landing of United Flight 232. 112 people died in that fiery crash. As a result, I suffered many debilitating injuries from which I was healed. I know that I was saved for a reason and a purpose and that I’m a walking miracle; even that catastrophe had its blessings.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
I founded Activate Workforce Solutions to be a business solution for social impact. We create pathways of opportunity for underserved individuals and build a diverse and inclusive talent pool for the 21st century. Activate serves as a catalyst in the community, inspiring business leaders to achieve impact through the jobs and wealth that business creates. We level the hiring field for low-wage earners. We screen for people with a fierce desire to improve their lives and the discipline to work hard at their success, and we present highly-vetted candidates to employers with job openings. Simply, we help employers make great hires. We then help convert great hires into great employees, through our individualized coaching. Our coaching helps people master the life, professional and personal financial skills necessary for long-term success. Our coaching helps convert people’s inherent potential into realized success We move people to economic freedom. On average, Activate placements go from earning $12,700 annually to earning $44,000 in their new jobs, an increase of $33,000. Over 85% are still retained for 12+ months. Most important is the life transformation that happens as clients develop the skills, mindsets, and disciplines necessary to become economically self-sufficient. Our vision is to activate individuals into their full potential through the dignity of work. We expect to launch over 100 individuals in 2021. Over the next five years, we plan to activate over 700 individuals, moving them to economic self-sufficiency through careers in healthcare, financial services, business services, skilled trades, and IT.

In terms of your work and the industry, what are some of the changes you are expecting to see over the next five to ten years?
The labor market will be shaped by two mega trends: automation and diversity. Automation and e-commerce are driving seismic shifts in the labor market, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated these trends. Healthcare, retail, and banking are a few of the many industries being rapidly transformed by technology. Digitalization and AI will obsolete many of today’s jobs–as many as 70 million low-skill low-wage jobs by 2030! We risk leaving millions of workers behind unless we develop an agile and adaptable workforce characterized by continuous learning and digital fluency. We must urgently educate and retrain individuals to stay productively engaged in the workforce of the future. To meet this need, we launched ActivateIT, a tuition-free IT training program. In our first five years, we will train 500 Coloradans for careers in technology. I believe the recent and welcomed focus on racial diversity, equity and inclusion is here to stay. The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others have sparked a widespread desire to build a nation of shared prosperity. While the economic case for diversity has been widely known, now customers, employees, suppliers, even investors are demanding more racial diversity in the companies they partner with. Recognizing that the pandemic deepened inequity for people of color, last year I authored the Colorado Inclusive Economy Movement, a movement of CEO’s who have the grit and the passion to build a Colorado that works for all. Our goal is to building multi-cultural workplaces and create the most inclusive economy in the nation.

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