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April Craig was a teacher who was learning to code on the side. Eyke Mendez was a temp who wanted a full-time career.
Now, after participating in an innovative training program run by a nonprofit in Charlotte, North Carolina, they are both working for U.S. Bank in exciting technology fields. Craig is helping create software, and Mendez is working to develop new products.
“I have so many more opportunities at my fingertips after completing the program,” Mendez said.
The nonprofit that launched new careers for Craig and Mendez is called Carolina Fintech Hub. Formed in 2017, it works with corporations, start-ups, universities and the public sector to promote emerging financial technologies. In 2019, it launched the Workforce Investment Network, or WIN, program, offering paid training to people from underrepresented communities and diverse backgrounds in the Carolinas region.
After successfully completing an intensive 24-week program in August, the participants were eligible to receive employment offers from companies that sponsor them in the program. U.S. Bank, which is based in Minneapolis but has a significant Charlotte presence, participated in the program for the first time this year.
Craig, who is originally from New York, was working full-time as a teacher when she first became interested in becoming a software engineer. After getting home from a long day at school, she would watch YouTube videos on coding and practice her new craft. Googling around one day, she discovered the WIN program and decided to apply.
Mendez, who grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, had been working a series of temp jobs but knew he wanted a more fulfilling career path. A co-worker told him about the WIN program, and he knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn new skills and land a job in a highly competitive field.
Both were accepted into the WIN program’s third class, or cohort, and started their intensive training in February.
The classwork, which was held virtually due to the pandemic, gave the participants an introduction to coding and other tech skills. But perhaps more importantly, it also offered professional development to prepare them for life in a corporate environment, where they would be collaborating with co-workers with years of experience.
This training is critical, Craig said, because program participants can experience “imposter syndrome” as they jump into a workforce full of industry veterans. “We went through a six-month boot camp,” Craig said. “They have been on the job 10, 15, 20 years.”
Both Craig and Mendez said they are learning a lot now that they have joined U.S. Bank and are getting more comfortable day by day. Craig is part of a team developing software for a capital markets platform, while Mendez is working on a project that helps improve applications used by U.S. Bank contact center employees.
It’s helped that they have the shared experience of going through the WIN program. Both are based in Charlotte, although they’re currently working remotely.
“We talk every day on Microsoft Teams,” Craig said. “We say ‘Hi’ and share memes.”
‘It’s been a life-changer’
U.S. Bank has partnered with a number of programs that help develop IT talent through innovative approaches. Recently, the bank hired about a dozen IT employees from an internship partnership it has with Summit Academy, a vocational school located in North Minneapolis. And in November, Elavon, a wholly-owned subsidiary of U.S. Bank and one of the largest payments processors globally, launched a three-year partnership with the Georgia Fintech Academy of the University System of Georgia.
In Charlotte, the bank initially developed a relationship with Carolina Fintech Hub through Jim Thompson, the Chief Risk Officer for the Corporate and Commercial Bank. He discussed WIN with Stephen Philipson, the bank’s head of Fixed Income & Capital Markets, and Philipson quickly saw the promise of bringing in new talent through the program.
“When Jim introduced me to the Carolina Fintech team, I saw the partnership as an incredible opportunity to act on our core values and do the right thing,” Philipson said. “The WIN program provides life-changing access and opportunity to overlooked individuals while helping companies like U.S. Bank identify and develop new talent.”
Other parts of the bank have also become involved with the WIN program, including Digital and Technology and Operations Services. The bank plans to continue hiring from the program going forward.
With the completion of its third cohort, Carolina Fintech has now successfully placed 113 participants in tech jobs around Charlotte. Applications have opened for the next cohort, which will begin in February.
“April and Eyke represent the exact types of candidates that our traditional hiring practices have become proficient in overlooking despite their potential,” said Pasha Maher, Managing Director of Carolina Fintech Hub. “Rather than complaining that there aren’t enough qualified candidates ready to be hired, U.S. Bank and our hiring partners are committed to investing in the educational future of traditionally overlooked candidates, training candidates while also supporting their resource needs, and building a better community while also simultaneously building a better business – a true ‘WIN’ for all involved.”
Mendez, the oldest of six siblings, was the first member of his family to go to college, graduating in 2018. Now, he said, the WIN program and U.S. Bank have given him a higher-paying career path that would not have been available to him otherwise.
“I am hoping to use this opportunity for my own career,” he said, “but as the first in my family to do this, it gives me an opportunity to help and advise my younger siblings. It’s been a big life-changer.”
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