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Training for the Real World: BankWork$ Prepares Students for Life-Changing Careers

July 17, 2017

For many young people, particularly those from low-income communities, the prospect of finding a job can be incredibly daunting. A career in banking may feel entirely out of reach. Mercedes Rippel, program manager of the YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish BankWork$ program, is determined to change the status quo. "These students have encountered a lot of barriers in their lives," Mercedes acknowledges. “But the biggest challenge many of them face is their own way of thinking – of doubting their own abilities and fearing that they may not be able to handle a certain kind of job. We're here to help them with that. We help these students with so many things that by the time they graduate, they're hardly the same person. They know that they can do anything!"
Mercedes is a force to be reckoned with. Her passion for the BankWork$ program is effusive and contagious — and she takes a no-nonsense approach when it comes to preparing her students for the future. "I don't hold anything back,” she says. “I don't sugar-coat anything. I ask them to do all the same things that the banks who hire these students will ask them to do. We don't treat this like a class; we treat it like a real job." The result of this approach, Mercedes says, is that her students enter the workforce knowing what to expect and feeling confident in their abilities to handle whatever comes their way. Taking her tough love guidance to heart, many BankWork$ students commute long distances to attend the eight-week sessions, finding ways to balance their busy schedules or child care, just as they would in the real world.
Recognizing the many positive contributions BankWork$ makes in the community and the banking industry, Peoples Bank became an official sponsor of the program earlier this year and recently hired its first BankWork$ graduate, Amanda Sample, as a Universal Banker at the Magnolia Office.

“I’ve always been interested in a career in banking,” explained Amanda. “One day I searched ‘bank teller training’ on Google, and found the BankWork$ program as the top result. I immediately emailed Mercedes and applied to be a part of it. Not only did the program teach me the skills and terminology I needed to enter the banking field, but it made me so much more confident in my abilities. There were times I wanted to give up, but Mercedes wouldn’t let me! She was the driving force who encouraged me to stick with it and complete the program. I’m so grateful to her and BankWork$. I wouldn’t be here today without it."

Amanda Sample - BankWork$ Graduate

Amanda Sample -  BankWork$ Graduate & Universal Banker at Peoples Bank

Christine Lewis, an HR Manager at Peoples Bank, and Ryan Greer, a Peoples Bank retail administrator, have been cultivating Peoples Bank’s relationship with BankWork$ since 2016. “As an organization that values training and supporting our employees’ personal growth, it took very little convincing for us to become involved in BankWork$ as a sponsor,” said Christine. Adds Ryan, “We are so impressed by the dedication of BankWork$ students and the program's success,” Ryan explains. “The students graduate from the program with excellent training, but more importantly, they’re eager to get to work and become part of a team. We're always focused on finding the very best employees for Peoples Bank and are excited about hiring these graduates.”
Established in 2006 in Los Angeles by the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation, BankWork$ provides free training to young adults from low-income and minority communities for lasting careers in the financial services industry as bank tellers, customer service representatives and personal bankers. The program also teaches students about workplace expectations, and includes job interview practice, job placement assistance and ongoing coaching and mentoring to help with career advancement.
By all accounts, the program has been a resounding success. From its inaugural class in 2011 through the first quarter of 2016, 71 percent of the YWCA BankWork$ Seattle program’s 468 graduates have been hired. The six-month retention rate is 87 percent, and the 12-month retention rate is 75 percent.
For Mercedes, the goal of each BankWork$ session is not simply to get her students prepared for just any job; rather, she emphasizes the importance of pairing the right graduates with the right positions so that the fit is good for everyone involved. To assure that these matches succeed, she and other BankWork$ instructors offer guidance and support to graduates even after they find positions in the industry. “The contract says that we'll work with these students for eighteen months after graduation,” says Mercedes, “but for me it's a life-long commitment. I want my students to be successful. I want them to live a dream and feel like they have self-worth and all the support they need."
Because BankWork$ partners with many different banks – including several very large institutions – competition for graduates can be stiff. “Peoples Bank was the first bank to congratulate me and express interest in hiring me after the BankWork$ graduation ceremony,” said Amanda. “I’ve just been overwhelmed by how friendly everyone is, and am really impressed with the Bank’s focus on family and giving back to the community. It’s such a welcoming environment, and I’m thrilled to be here.”
Added Christine, "Peoples Bank is a great place to start a career. We offer great training opportunities and a chance to gain new skills, move up, and be challenged. Peoples Bank really does care about internal promotion and about hiring from within whenever possible. Ryan and I began our careers as entry-level customer service representatives, and our paths to our current positions are evidence of this.”
Hiring great people is just one aspect of Peoples Bank’s commitment to the program. “Ultimately, we sponsor the program because they do good work in the community,” Ryan explains. “We're supporting a program that is helping a lot of people who wouldn't otherwise have this opportunity. At the end of the day, that is what matters most."

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