Nearly five years ago, Head of Social Impact Andrea Wood and her team opened the first Best Buy Teen Tech Center. With 31 centers now open across the country and a plan to have 60 open by the end of 2020, Andrea said the program has become a substantial component of their overall social impact strategy.
According to Andrea, the initiative got started because they were looking to revamp their community giving focus and thinking about how to tie Best Buy’s unique expertise and employee passion into community giving social impact programs. “The Teen Tech Centers checked all those boxes,” she said.
Their next step was to find a national partner who could help them implement the program.
“We had a vision for it, and we did a national search for a partner who is already doing this work,” said Andrea. “We found a partner out of Boston called The Clubhouse Network, they run tech-based youth programs across the world.”
Each Teen Tech Center follows the same model from The Clubhouse Network, which prioritizes teens learning tech skills that fit with their interests.
“It's a proven model where teens come in and is the staff are trained to get them interested in learning something on their own,” said Andrea. “The staff give them access to tools that teach them the skills that align with their interests. This model is all about getting the teens interested in exploring and figuring out what they love to do.”
Andrea said there’s also an emphasis on self-motivation to help the teens further refine their skills and apply them to their own projects. “We also give them structure through a Career Pathways program so they can spend time learning some more specific tech skills . Teens learn these skills during a 9-month program that culminates in a paid internship in the summer to give them exposure to different careers they could pursue and what the training and education requirements, all with the goal of helping youth chart a clear path to whatever their next step is.”
Andrea said their number one goal was to help teens from disinvested communities prepare for the tech jobs of the future.
“We wanted to reach out to that community and figure out how we can help them given Best Buy’s unique expertise and assets,” she said.
Secondarily, they wanted to build employee engagement. Andrea and her team wanted a place-based strategy with centers across the country where Best Buy employees could engage, volunteer, and provide training and workshops on a regular basis, and share their passion about technology.
To help build that employee engagement, they appoint a local liaison in every market where they have a Teen Tech Center.
They also locate Teen Tech Centers in markets where Best Buy has a critical mass of employees so they can more easily build employee engagement and involvement in the centers.
As they’ve expanded the program, Andrea said they’ve also prioritized forming partnerships with other tech brands.
“We began to realize there were a lot of Best Buy business partners who were trying to do the same work in different ways,” she said. “We began to reach out to them organically at first, but now more methodically, asking them to co-invest in these programs with us.”
Their first co-investment partner was Sony, who wanted to open a center in their San Diego headquarters with one of their key nonprofit partners, The Boys and Girls Clubs.
“We chose the site and opened it up together. We also have Sony equipment in the Teen Tech Center, and their employees are volunteering alongside ours,” said Andrea. “Through partnerships like this, we're bringing the resources, expertise, mentoring, potential job opportunities, and internships from more than just one company into the Teen Tech Centers and giving the teens more opportunities.”
They also decided to start incorporating specific career and college pathway programming into the Teen Tech Centers.
“They're getting a lot of exposure and learning a lot of tech skills at the centers,” said Andrea. “But many of them were graduating from high school without a clear plan for their future. We decided that we needed to layer in some more structure for the older teens so they could have more exposure to careers and get some work-based learning opportunities.”
With these additional resources, Andrea said the program is continuing to get stronger.
To open up a new center, Andrea and her team choose nonprofits, community organizations, or schools to run the day-to-day operations of the center.
But, Andrea emphasized they’re involved in the whole process.
“We give them a construction grant to build out the space, as well as a furniture, technology and an annual program staffing grant to get them up and running. Then we train program staff to make sure they’re trained in the model from The Clubhouse Network,” said Andrea. “The Clubhouse Network does all of the staff training, development, and ongoing support for the programs to make sure that they are being run consistently and adhering to the learning model.
Now, Andrea and her team are looking into the long-term impact of the centers.
“We do youth impact surveys every year, and what we're finding compared to the teens in these communities that don't have access to these programs, high school graduation rates are much higher,” said Andrea. “Nearly all of our teens plan to graduate from high school.”
She said they’re also seeing greater interest in STEM and technology careers, particularly with girls at the centers. “We're seeing a 20-point increase in the number of girls who are interested in pursuing tech careers versus the baseline of girls nationwide,” said Andrea.
Moving forward, Andrea and her team want to use the Teen Tech Centers as a talent pipeline.
“We want to get the teens excited about working for us and our partners,” she said. “We started a pilot retail internship program this past summer with some of our teens in several markets across the country.”
“Our plan is to expand that,” said Andrea. “Hopefully all of our centers will have that program. We're excited to see these Teen Tech Centers begin to be a talent pipeline for Best Buy and our partners.”
Andrea said their experiences and results so far have driven home the importance of this program.
“I'm proud we’re providing this platform for youth to explore and take risks and be self-motivated to teach themselves,” she said. “We have some great stories across the country and every time I hear a new story it confirms we're doing the right thing. This model works and we need to keep doing it.”
For anyone looking to develop a similar program, Andrea said the most important thing is finding the right partner.
“We knew we didn't have the expertise to be able to develop this program on our own,” said Andrea. “We had a vision for it, but we didn't know how to do it. So finding the right people to help you execute and figure out how to do it right is crucial. It takes about five years for something like this to actually take hold and sink in, and we’re just turning that corner so I’m excited to see where this program goes next.”
She also said to be patient, because finding the right program that ties to your business and your core expertise can take time. But it’s important that it’s unique to you.
Andrea Wood has been a member of the CSR Board since 2019. You can follow her on LinkedIn.