BankWork$ trains young adults from low-income and minority communities to work in the financial services industry.

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Shortly after moving to Seattle from Arkansas in late 2012, Trisha Stepp started a free job-training program called BankWork$.

She calls it a blessing.

“When I moved here, I didn’t know anybody,” Stepp says. Besides providing eight weeks of training for a career in financial services, the program offered interviewing practice, placement assistance, ongoing coaching — and “an instant way to make 20 friends to rely on and talk to,” Stepp says, of her training class.

BankWork$ also provided financial assistance so Stepp could finish the program and partnered with Dress for Success to help her build a professional wardrobe.

After completing the program, Stepp received multiple job offers, and has been working for KeyBank ever since.

Started in 2006 in Los Angeles and brought to Seattle in 2011, BankWork$ is the brainchild of former banking executive Les Biller. The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation founded and sponsors the program. The YWCA runs the program in Seattle — which has grown from one class in 2011 to a dozen or so courses scheduled in various locations around the Puget Sound this year — and its staff gushes about the program and its participants.

“I live and breathe this program and my staff does, too,” says Mercedes Rippel, the program manager for YWCA BankWork$. “BankWork$ gives students a chance, students who don’t think anyone would let them have a bank job. … But they’re hungry for it. They want it.”

BankWork$ reaches out to low-income communities and communities of color. Women account for 79 percent of trainees. Applicants are screened for eligibility — they must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or GED and basic computer skills. Once accepted into the program, students attend an eight-week course that includes training by staff and member banks.

“We basically cover everything from Banking 101, bank regulations, fraud and robbery, and balancing your cash drawers to basic etiquette, empathy, customer service, and sales and presentation skills,” says Mike Schwartz, director of economic empowerment at YWCA of Seattle, King and Snohomish.

Upon completion of the course, students attend a graduation ceremony that is immediately followed by a daylong hiring event. Graduates often get offers on the spot, usually for a float teller position.

About 20 banks participate in the program, including large national banks Wells Fargo, US Bank and Bank of America, and smaller banks such as Key Bank, Homestreet Bank and BECU. “The banks are so supportive and see the program as an eight-week-long interview,” Schwartz says.

BankWork$ participant Esperanza Gutierrez says the program didn’t just help her get a job, it helped her get a career. She had been a cashier in the retail industry for years, but was never promoted.

“By having a career in the banking industry, you can get promoted and grow,” says Gutierrez, who started out as a float teller for KeyBank and is now a lead teller. “My goal is to be a branch manager in five years.

The idea of building a career appeals to the students, and the numbers speak to the program’s success. Since the program launched, 76 percent of BankWork$ Puget Sound graduates accepted job offers — and in 2017 alone, that number rose to 85 percent. Since 2011, 85 percent of hires have retained their jobs for at least six months, and 78 percent for at least 12 months, making BankWork$ one of the most successful workforce development programs in the country.

A key to the program’s success is its commitment to ongoing coaching and mentoring after a graduate is hired, be it working on soft skills, brushing up on computer skills, helping to access housing and other resources, or just identifying next steps to advancement. As an example, Schwartz mentions one student who landed a job but was struggling with phone etiquette because English was his second language. A BankWork$ career navigator worked with him to improve his phone etiquette through role-playing, preventing him from being terminated.

From all accounts, the program has had a profound and lasting impact on its graduates. “They are not the same people eight weeks after the program,” Rippel says. “You would not recognize them.”