Skowhegan Savings Bank’s Career Prep Initiative

By Hoa Nguyen

A labor shortage in the United States is reaching a critical point this year—and the issue is particularly acute in Maine. With a median age of 45, the state’s population is the oldest in the nation. Maine is now facing a workforce crisis: this aging population makes up most of its skilled labor, according to a December 2017 task force report on economy and workforce.

A local bank in Skowhegan, Maine, is trying to help alleviate this issue.

Connecting youth with potential employers.

Since 2015, Skowhegan Savings Bank has partnered with the nonprofit Jobs for Maine’s Graduates to implement a unique career development program for local youth called the Skowhegan Savings Career Prep Initiative.

The initiative aims at promoting financial literacy for the youth—and engaging students with potential employers while they’re still in school. Students in Maine’s Somerset and Franklin Counties have the chance to gain hands-on experience in their areas of interest through job shadows, internships, business tours and mentorships.

Having completed its fourth year, Skowhegan Savings has connected 390 businesses with 4,500 students across the two counties. “For us it was important to partner with someone who understood and complemented our mission, to make our communities a better place to live and work,” says John Witherspoon, president and CEO of the bank. “We have been focused on trying to make an impact in our communities and less on getting credit for it.”

Addressing the big picture issues.

In addition to promoting banking careers, the program aims to raise awareness about financial literacy. Toward that end, partners have developed a financial literacy work group that brings together educators and employees from the banking sector in order to gather more expertise to better serve the local youth.

Participating students have also pitched in on the effort. Students at Somerset Career and Technical Center in Skowhegan, for example, did their own research on careers, wages, housing cost, transportation and insurance costs, among other expenses. All of this research ended up laying the building blocks for a “Financial Reality Fair”—a student-led financial literacy fair that spoke to the needs of students. “They took complete ownership and made the information relevant to them in their school and their community,” says Tracie Travers, workforce development manager at JMG. “Area businesses and bank employees volunteered at this event and noticed the increase in number of student participants as well as student and teacher engagement.”

By facilitating financial literacy and career fairs, banks give local youth their first opportunity to interact with employees in the financial industry. Through Skowhegan Savings Bank’s partnership with JMG, bank employees have participated in multiple programs—and the feedback has always been positive. It’s the interactions with the students that keep the volunteers coming back.

Interested in implementing a similar program for your community?

Consider these suggestions from Skowhegan Savings Bank.

  • For an easier start-up, consider partnering with an existing program that has a track record of success as measured by qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Be willing to collaborate with outside individuals or institutions—even if you compete with them in other arenas. The competition may come into play when students are choosing which bank to work for. But it will take the collaboration of many institutions to improve the field as a whole.
  • Develop and maintain a common goal. Effective communication, including active listening, is important.
  • Assess the communities you work in. Speak with educators, businesses, and non-profits to know the strengths and opportunities for growth. Sharing resources cuts down on duplicated efforts. It also increases efficiency while decreasing time and money in the long run.

The ABA Foundation provides resources for banks tackling issues in their local communities—to drive growth, revitalize neighborhoods and businesses, and enable millions of Americans to achieve their goals.

One of the Foundation’s resources is its Get Smart About Credit program. Now in its 16th year, Get Smart About Credit is a national campaign of volunteer bankers who work with youth to raise awareness about the importance of credit. This year’s Get Smart About Credit Day is October 18, 2018.

Register here for the upcoming Get Smart About Credit webinar, Thursday, September 13 at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Hoa Nguyen is a communications intern with the American Bankers Association. LinkedIn.  [email protected]