Blue Meridian Partners, whose donor partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ballmer Group and the Sergey Brin Family Foundation.

Others contributing to the fund are the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Schmidt Futures, led by Eric Schmidt, former chief executive of Google.

For Social Finance and its backers, the career impact bonds are not traditional investments. For them, breaking even or a small return would be winning — proof the concept is working, which should attract more public and private money.

“We need to move toward evidence-based funding,” said Jim Shelton, chief investment and impact officer for Blue Meridian Partners and a deputy secretary of education in the Obama administration. “And Social Finance is supporting programs that show it can be done.”

The Social Finance income-share agreement with students ranges from about 5 percent to 9 percent depending on their earnings — less from $30,000 to $40,000, and generally more above $40,000. The monthly payments last four years. If you lose your job, the payment obligation stops.

“Our investors aren’t after high returns. They’re primarily after social impact,” Ms. Palandjian said.

When screening programs, Social Finance looks for those that offer training for specific skills linked to local demand, and have data to show that its students graduate and get good-paying jobs. In selecting a skilled-trade school, Social Finance, working with Burning Glass Technologies, which analyzes job-market data, sought a program for an occupation in demand with potential for the worker to move up the career ladder.

American Diesel Training, based in Columbus, Ohio, met the requirements. The for-profit company’s program is designed as a short, intensive course to train entry-level diesel technicians, mostly for trucking companies and dealerships.

Demand for diesel technicians is robust as more goods are shipped by truck, often delivering products ordered online, and baby-boom mechanics are retiring. There is an accessible career path to become a senior mechanic or into administration as a service, distribution or shop manager.

American Diesel Training, founded in 2017, succeeded in placing students in jobs in its first few years, but remained small.

Before Social Finance arrived, Tim Spurlock, co-founder and chief executive of American Diesel Training, looked into financing through income-share agreements offered by venture-backed start-ups. The terms, he said, were far less favorable for students.

“Social Finance comes at it from a completely different angle,” he said.

The first group of Social Finance-funded students started the five-week course last September. There are now about 70 students in each course. That is about four times as many as a year ago.

Social Finance pays American Diesel Training just over 60 percent of its fee initially. The rest comes later, after a student lands and keeps a job.

“I’m fine with that,” Mr. Spurlock said. “We’ve completely proven our educational model. The problem was the funding mechanism.”

A total of 229 students supported by Social Finance have been enrolled. The graduation rate is nearly 100 percent, and 89 percent have jobs. Their average annual income is $36,500, and the average gain from income before the program is $12,400.

Today, Mr. Barber, who saw an ad for the program on Facebook, works in Ohio for U.S. Xpress, a national freight-hauling trucker. As an entry-level diesel technician, he is mostly doing preventive maintenance on trucks. With diesel mechanics in demand, the company paid him a $2,000 signing bonus and a relocation fee.

Jordan Battle earns about $43,000 a year as a diesel mechanic for a large trucking company in Atlanta, far more than she did as a contractor for a civic education organization.

That job ended with the pandemic, so she decided to go for “something essential and to have a real skill others don’t.” She was accepted in the American Diesel Training program, and she was offered a job after three weeks, before she graduated. Practice interviews, résumé building and introductions to employers were part of the curriculum.

“That’s where the program really stands out,” she said. “They fight for you.”

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