Some industries can seem difficult to break into, and banking is often seen as one of those elusive career paths. But the BankWork$ program can help: the program is aimed at low-income people of color on public assistance, who have some customer service background but limited work histories.
BankWork$ is an educational program focusing on the practical aspects of launching a career in banking, including digital banking, customer service, loan and line of credit products, and credit financial education. “We have also customized the program,” said Mike Schwartz, YWCA’s Regional Director for King County Economic Empowerment, “to ensure students are ‘dressing for success,’ to enhance our digital literacy curriculum and incorporate social media, and to fine-tune telephone etiquette.”
The BankWork$ program was founded in Los Angeles by the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation almost a dozen years ago, and in 2011, it expanded into its second city, Seattle. “We have since expanded the program to South and East King County and to Pierce County,” Schwartz said. “The YWCA and the Biller Family Foundation assumed that the industry-specific training provided would apply equally to other communities and connected with the Seattle Foundation to help determine the needs in our community.”
The BankWork$ program seemed like a good match for the local community, according to Schwartz: “The Seattle-Puget Sound Region has over 2,000 entry-level bank openings every year. Our focus groups revealed a strong desire for banking careers among the people we serve, and an interest in customer service and sales focused training.”
One of YWCA’s main partners in the BankWork$ initiative has been KeyBank. “KeyBank was already partnering with the YWCA through our board of directors, our YWCA Employer Advisory Committee, through business networking events, and through hiring events that we offered at the WorkSource office in downtown Seattle, which is managed by the YWCA,” Schwartz said. “As one of the banks in our region which most values diversity, we knew that KeyBank would be a natural partner.”
Derek Pender, KeyBank’s local Area Retail Leader and Vice President, agrees. “I have a banker who came out of the Bankwork$ program and very quickly rose from a top performing teller to now a top 10% banker in the company,” Pender said. “To see her grow professionally and to see her personal confidence grow is what I believe this program is all about.”
The BankWork$ program is intended to have long-term benefits. “I tell the BankWork$ candidates, when I meet with them, that I am not here to hire my next teller, I am here to hire my next Branch Manager,” Pender said. “Many of the BankWork$ hires have been promoted within a year and have moved on to higher level positions within Key. I think this is a direct reflection of what is instilled in these candidates while going through the program.”
Schwartz lauds KeyBank for its strong role in the program. “KeyBank participates in our graduation hiring event, providing speakers during the graduation ceremony, and recruiters and hiring managers who interview each student at the job fair,” he said. “After hire, KeyBank provides continuing education and coaching to our graduates, and often grooms hires for promotional opportunities. KeyBank also nominates BankWork$ hires for awards and publicizes this partnership and its graduates in their internal newsletter.”
All this success may seem formidable for those applicants facing personal and family barriers, including housing issues, domestic violence, lack of resources, lack of income, transportation, limited English proficiency, disability, and child care challenges.
“Our participants also experience a lack of 21st-century job search skills, need help with ‘soft skills’ or ‘performance skills,’ and sometimes lack confidence,” Schwartz said. “YWCA BankWork$ employs Banking Career Navigators whose primary responsibility is to provide employment preparation, career navigation, job placement, soft skills, and retention support to BankWork$ program participants.”
This support begins from the moment that an applicant is accepted into the program. “The navigator provides case management and support and job readiness assistance to ensure that students will be able to graduate from the class,” Schwartz said. “Upon and after graduation, the navigator assists students and graduates to obtain employment at banks and financial institutions through job search assistance, interview preparation, career coaching, and job matching. The Navigator works one on one with each and every student, creating a career and education plan that will follow them through training and the first six months on the job.”
BankWork$ strives to encourage interested individuals to apply by keeping entry barriers low. Basic requirements include a minimum age of 18, a high school diploma or GED, basic English proficiency, basic computer skills, and an absence of adult felony convictions.
The program is also flexible about the experience that it seeks in its applicants. Participants should have recent cash handling experience, either through previous retail positions, volunteer work, or other positions, along with a sincere interest in working within the banking industry and a commitment to class attendance. “Our assessment process includes further questions on employment history, computer skills, and ethics,” Schwartz said, “and also includes an interview with program staff to gauge interest and commitment in the program.”
The program is selective, but those who are not immediately admitted can apply again. “We work with all applicants who meet the minimum qualifications but are not accepted to improve their abilities in order to be accepted into the following session,” Schwartz said. “This may include working on ESL, basic computing skills, or obtaining cash handling experience.”
But, for YWCA and KeyBank, BankWork$ service to the Puget Sound community will only be the beginning. “My hope is that this program continues to grow across the country,” Pender said, “because banking is a critical piece to the success of our economy and can provide these graduates with a life-long career.”
For more information or to apply to the BankWork$ program, call (206) 436-8674 or (253) 736-2301.