For over 30 years, the Johnson & Johnson Bridge to Employment initiative has been more than just a mentorship program for minority and at-risk youth—it has become a lifeline toward a better future for participants and their families around the world.
Building a Bridge, Changing a Life
When Johnson & Johnson (J&J) started its Bridge to Employment (BTE) program back in 1992, the goal was simple: help 14- to 18-year-olds pursue opportunities in higher education, excel in their academic studies, and broaden their awareness of the options available to them in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.
Since then, the self-sustaining program of corporate-funded sites has expanded to over 100 communities worldwide. Each partnership, unique in its structure and implementation, has supported young people’s education and career aspirations. A truly global program, BTE operates in North America, Latin and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific region.
The BTE adds three to four new sites each year, some of which continue beyond their initial three-year pilot. Each site begins as a partnership between J&J, high schools, institutions of higher education, and community-based organizations in cities. Together they develop a strategic plan that is unique to each location so that they can best meet the needs of the young people in that area.
Turning Barriers into Opportunities
Students selected to participate in the Bridge to Employment often have at least one barrier, (socioeconomic, language, or other) that makes succeeding in higher education a challenge.
Ciara Grimes and her peers participated in BTE’s program in Limerick, Ireland for the past three years. “Until we spent a week working in [Johnson & Johnson MedTech] I was unaware of all the different jobs in the company. My time on the BTE program has helped me realize I would like to study Business in college and, hopefully, one day work for a company like [J&J],” said Ciara.
Abraham (Abe) Alangadan is the Senior Portfolio Project Manager at J&J Vision and was inspired to bring the BTE program to Jacksonville, Florida several years ago. “Some of the students we serve are immigrants to the United States and may be the only English speakers in their families. They have tremendous pressure on them to provide for their families while attending school,” stated Mr. Alangadan.
Through academic enrichment activities, and opportunities for career readiness and higher education exploration, Bridge to Employment students are mentored and inspired to elevate their career aspirations by exposing them to various careers in the healthcare industry. BTE also helps students to achieve their full potential, along with building their self-esteem, self-discipline, and interpersonal skills.
“The more you expose students to opportunities, the more you allow them to get the knowledge and power they need to make the right choices after high school,” says Jennifer Martinez, a graduation coach at Englewood High School in Jacksonville, Florida. The students in that program participated in an event at Florida State College at Jacksonville where they had the opportunity to experiment with robotics, 3D printers, and programming.
Camerone Byrd, a BTE student in the Jacksonville program, hopes to become a chemical engineer in the future. Camerone shared that he is the only one of the ten siblings in his family who has had an opportunity like this, and how much it means to his family: “It’s a great honor for me, and my family is proud of me and what I do.”
The program not only gives students access to mentorship in STEM opportunities and careers, it has the ability to support them financially on their journey as well. Vivienne Hogan, principal of Thomond Community in Limerick, Ireland expressed her appreciation for this extended support for graduating students: “Through the program, our BTE students have also been given the opportunity to apply for further education scholarships to help them towards the costs of pursuing further education. Students who may not have been able to afford higher education in the past, now have access to that opportunity.”
The BTE program plays an important role in bringing inclusion and equity to the community workforce. Through the unique opportunities it offers, it supports not only the well-being of the students but also the economic development of their families and local community.
Beyond Education—an Unexpected Benefit
Within the United States, the BTE program’s benefits extend beyond education; it’s having a positive impact on the health of the family by addressing the issue of healthcare inequality. The Bridge to Employment program hopes to shrink the gaps in healthcare inequality by providing opportunities for better income and access to healthcare for its participants. The BTE program has a track record of guiding its students into higher education, with approximately 75% of BTE graduates being accepted into an institution of higher education that they plan to attend. With higher education comes better employment opportunities and access to positions with healthcare benefitsi.
Another factor in healthcare inequality is the disproportionately low number of black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in health and science careers. According to a recent survey, 88% of BTE graduates are aware of careers in the healthcare sector, 75% of BTE graduates have knowledge of the skills required for a healthcare career, and 46% of BTE graduates plan to pursue a career in the healthcare sector.
Katerin Bertrand, a BTE student participant, moved from Honduras with her family when she was nine years old. Katerin now wants to become a doctor herself to help others: “I want to help my people — because, in my country, there’s not a lot of doctors,” she said.
J&J’s Abe Alangadan believes that education equals better opportunities, not only in the students’ future careers, but in their access to healthcare as well.
How J&J is Leading the Way
The Johnson & Johnson credo states “We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work.” The BTE program is just another way that J&J is standing by its commitment. More than 400 J&J employees have actively volunteered their time to the BTE program, contributing over 4,000 hours per year to coach and supervise the participating students.
J&J employees are actively involved in all program aspects, from program design to community partner selection. Each partnership includes a local J&J operating company, a high school or institution of higher education, and a community organization. Once partners are engaged, 35-50 students in their last three years of secondary school are selected for the program.
Abdiel Alvarez, PhD and Vice President of WW Quality & Compliance at J&J Vision joined the BTE program as an Executive Sponsor in the Jacksonville location. “If we are able to help one student go beyond their initial academic aspirations, it will be a success. If we can do the same for 25-30 students, it will be great. And if we can make this a sustainable initiative for years to come, it will be even better.”
BTE into the Future
Johnson & Johnson’s Bridge to Employment program is proud of its self-sustaining sites, many of which continue to operate after the initial three-year pilot ends--and the program continues to grow. In February 2023, the BTE team visited the program’s three new sites: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Each new location offers an opportunity to provide the local community with the connections and services that they need most. It’s just one more way that J&J goes beyond the company walls to serve the areas in which it operates.
If you are a secondary school, institution of higher education, community organization, or local Johnson & Johnson operating company and you’re interested in bringing Bridge to Employment to your community, use this form to contact us. You can also learn more about the BTE program and its many locations across the world by visiting Bridge2Employment.org.
Together, we’re paving the path for students to a brighter future that is full of opportunity.