When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, Hollywood (and the world) slowed to a stop, leaving the team behind Endeavor’s pipeline initiatives at a loss.

In an industry already rife with barriers to entry for people from underrepresented groups, how could these prospective talents get their foot in the door at agencies, studios and entertainment companies when the door literally no longer exists because everyone’s working from home?

Those were the types of questions Romola Ratnam, Endeavor’s head of social impact, and Hilary Kidwell, director of social impact, (both pictured above), began to ask themselves.

“You have all these young people that may or may not think that they have a shot to be in this industry, and would’ve maybe gotten their first opportunity, whether it be an internship or entry level, and they may not have that anymore,” Ratnam recalled in an interview with Variety. “We already know the struggle to increase diversity within our industry is already tough, and when we take away all of these jobs, what does that do?”

So the team got creative, pivoting their postponed Fellowship Program — which aimed to provide jobs, mentoring and education programs within the company to 42 fellows each year — into a virtual model, renamed Summer Series, providing registrants the opportunity to learn more about working in the sports, entertainment and fashion industries.

“We thought, ‘Let’s give them some free education that anybody can access from any device no matter where they are, and some hope that ‘hey, I can make it,'” Ratnam explained. “Maybe I don’t have this internship, or I don’t see the opportunities being posted for when I graduate that I once did, but here’s something that moves them along their journey to be in this industry, and that makes them better prepared once they’re here.”

Ultimately, more than 2,000 participants signed up for the eight-week program, which ran five days a week online. After witnessing the daily dedication from those who enrolled, the social impact team immediately realized they’d tapped into something special.

Since launching Summer Series in June 2020, Endeavor has followed it up with a slew of other programming including the NXT series (which has included two NYFW editions, NXT Africa and NXT/Latinx), as well as the Excellence Program (launched in partnership with Sean Combs).

“Our original intent was to just provide exposure and we really seen an incredible turnout from the participants. We’ve had 23,000 people enroll,” Kidwell added. “Ramala and I have stayed very connected with the students [afterward] and found ways to really reach them where they are. To see how the program evolved, and how many participants are now finding employment, has been the greatest success.”

And, after two years of virtual programming, the pivot has paid off — so much so that the Endeavor Human Resources department practically considers the programs their new hiring pool. In fact, 46 participants from the various initiatives have been hired as full-time employees or for internship positions. 28 employees were hired from the Summer Series program alone, with 11 coming from the Excellence Program and seven hired out of the NXT Africa initiative.

The hires have come across the company. The majority of the employees have landed at WME (with 24 employees), Endeavor’s corporate office (10 hires), creative agency 160over90 (7), the film and television studio Endeavor Content (3, prior to its divestiture and acquisition by Korea’s CJ ENM) and the Wall Group management company (1).

While most of the employees were hired for entry-level jobs, some of the hires were more advanced in their careers and making a transition from one industry sector to another. One example is a program graduate who made the pivot from being a lawyer at a major studio to working toward becoming an agent; another has landed an account executive role at 160over90, skipping the assistant track due to their previous industry experience. Still, others landed coordinator roles at their new companies.

“We’ve got marketing coordinators, strategy interns, people doing corporate communications,” Kidwell shared. “We’ve got someone in finance, someone in human resources, an individual in the social impact team and a model manager assistant and coordinator.”

Major players from within Endeavor have looked to this hiring pool to find talent, including the head of IMG Academy and Endeavor Client Group president and WME Chairman Lloyd Bruan, who has selected assistants from program grads.

But it’s not just Endeavor companies snatching up these prospective new talents — other participants have been hired at Combs Enterprises, Disney, Wasserman and MACRO in similar roles. “We’re really trying to help them get jobs anywhere,” Kidwell explained.

If the first step is finding a way to get recruits in the door, the next is to keep them there — and help them move up the ladder.

“We’re finding hundreds of people every cycle that want to be in this industry, but have already put in 60 hours of work into making that happen,” Ratnam noted. “So, in one sense it’s giving us a more qualified applicant pool than ever before — and more diverse because these programs are overwhelmingly made up of people of color and females, etc.”

In order to prevent attrition once these employees get hired, the curriculums were also designed to show the less-glamorous aspects of the industry — and make sure they’re just as prepared as they are qualified.

“I think a lot of people are taking a numbers game approach to their hiring. They’re saying we need to get as many people of color into the door as possible, which obviously we all agree with,” Ratnam explained. “But what we’re learning through this program is these individuals — especially when they’re early on in their careers, right out of college, or an equivalent life experience — don’t know what it means to be an agent versus a manager versus a studio exec.”

She continued: “Yes, there are hundreds of qualified young people of color that deserve to be in this industry. If we make the program seem too sexy and the industry seem too incredible, they come in and they’re in for a very hard reality, because being an assistant on a desk, no matter how great the clients are, is not a sexy job.”

At the end of the day, real change in the industry happens through the retention and eventual promotion of these new hires. Right now, Ratnam and Kidwell are feeling confident that, thanks to the widespread dedication to these programs across Endeavor, things are moving in the right direction.

“These companies are trusting that [the participants’] determination, the grit and the energy that they’re putting into completing these programs — and the companies’ passion for wanting to make social change, too — that’s what’s getting them in the door,” Kidwell said. “We want to get them in the door, but it’s about helping them move up too once they’re here, because once they land in agents and executive roles, that’s where we feel like real change will happen.”