Four Madison, Wis.-area credit unions are offering career opportunities for Latinos through a local job-building program, demonstrating what community stakeholders can accomplish when they share their resources and expertise.
It’s another inspiring example of how credit unions are creating awareness of the credit union difference by building bridges within their communities.
The Career Igniter program includes as partners CUNA, the local nonprofit Centro Hispano, Madison College, Dane County Credit Union, Heartland Credit Union, University of Wisconsin Credit Union, and Summit Credit Union.
Scott Lopez, CUNA’s director of human resources, is a board member of Centro Hispano, an organization that empowers Latinos.
Lopez helped develop the program as part of his National Credit Union Foundation Development Educator Training. The program features teller training, computer classes, financial education, and professional development.
Participating credit unions serve as an advisory council for the program, provide speakers, and offer jobs to qualified candidates who complete the program.
Funding for the program comes from the four credit unions involved in the project; the Madison Community Foundation, a local charitable organization that funds community initiatives; and the National Council of La Raza, a national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.
“All these community partners working together have provided a really good fit in providing viable job candidates for the Dane County workforce and local credit unions, and it opens a new door for the Hispanic community,” says Carla Wolf, Dane County Credit Union’s vice president of human resources.
Centro Hispano provides marketing and recruiting for the program, which it promotes to the Latino community as “Caminos,” or pathways.
The organization advertises the program on local radio stations, posts fliers in area Latino businesses, and posts content on social media. Organizers thoroughly vet candidates before granting them entry to the program.
Participants must have a work permit and a high-school diploma. But perhaps most important, the 10-week program requires a real commitment from students. Classes meet from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and additional homework is required. Many students hold daytime jobs.
“We want to help people improve their lives, and education is the cornerstone of that,” says Mariela Quesada Centeno, Centro Hispano’s director of adult programs.
Personal finance is a component of the program. Participants enroll in a three-credit personal finance course Madison College offers. Students gain financial skills that can help them individually, and provide guidance for their families.
“A lot of the students are exposed to concepts like credit and budgeting for the first time in their lives,” says Centeno.
The program gives students exposure to a college classroom setting, allowing them to gain confidence they can further their education, she adds.
“The teller training can get students in the door of the financial institution, because for certain communities it’s a long journey just to get there, to pry that door open a little bit,” says Tania Rivera, Centro Hispano career pathways specialist. “We see this training as the start of a career. We want to provide students with extra knowledge because they’re not starting at the same point as other job candidates.
“That’s why we don’t only focus our attention on cash-handling and customer service,” she continues. “We also focus on financial literacy and reinforcing soft skills.”
Credit unions engage with students as early as the program’s orientation and provide professional development content, such as interview skills and résumé writing, as part of curriculum.
Dane County Credit Union also provides a tour of one of its branches. Since the program’s inception, Dane County Credit Union has hired two graduates of Career Igniter. Wolff says the participants are excelling in their jobs in part due to the education and training provided through the program.
“You can tell they had additional training coming in,” Wolf says. “We have seen that the employees we hired have some background knowledge that an employee with a retail background, for example, might not have.”
Wolf believes the expectations of the Career Igniter program have truly raised the bar for program graduates.
“The program really helps them have a sense of ownership and expectation because they have to be on time, show up for class, and get their work done,” Wolf says. “That component is reflected in how they conduct themselves. Those are big factors that make a difference in being a good employee.”
And, she says, the new employees add value to the credit union.
“We do have a large population of Hispanic-speaking residents who are represented in our membership,” Wolf says. “It’s wonderful to have employees who can serve them. Members feel more comfortable coming to us. It works for both sides, the Hispanic community and the credit union.”