The economic consequences of COVID-19 have especially affected Hispanics, who disproportionately made up the workforce prior to the pandemic working in retail and hospitality. The impact of the pandemic in the Latinx community—including through job- and income-loss—makes programs like UnidosUS’s Latinos in Finance key in helping Latinos access jobs that can allow them to better support themselves and their families.
By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
Since 2015, UnidosUS has run the Latinos in Finance program—or LIF, and also known as Caminos Finance, Financial Services Training, and Unidos in Finance depending on the Affiliate offering the program—with Affiliates and partners across the country. This initiative connects Latinx people with jobs in the financial services sector, where there is a demand for bilingual bankers.
Even during last year’s challenging scenario, 13 Affiliates and partners were able to adapt their Latinos in Finance classes to a virtual format, maintaining a graduation rate of 78%, on par with previous years, proving that grantees pivoted quickly and effectively, and kept their virtual programs engaging. They delivered the program to 568 participants, of whom 448 graduated and are in the process of advancing their careers.
The program’s participants are resilient and determined, and have made the most of the opportunity to go through training for a new career. These are their experiences.
Of all days to be late, Juvenal walked into his LIF session at PODER while a representative from Bank of America was lecturing on the importance of accountability, time management, and attendance in the workplace. The executive had no soft spot for latecomers, and bluntly asked Juvenal why he was late. “I was robbed,” Juvenal said.
Juvenal had been robbed on the train ride to PODER, and instead of quitting the program—or at least taking that day off—he showed up to class more determined than ever to forge a new career.
In the fall of 2019, Juvenal—or Juvie—was experiencing homelessness. Juvenal, a restaurant industry worker with an amiable personality and positive, upbeat disposition, soon heard about LIF through PODER’s ad on Indeed. He then decided to find a more reliable source of income by withdrawing his applications to restaurants and making a bet on himself and his future.
Hailing from Chicago’s north side, Juvie had worked at some popular restaurants in the city like Yolk, and Carnivale. Both companies are considered culinary staples in Chicago, and that’s where he learned what it took to instantly build a rapport with a customer and make patrons immediately feel at ease. Every establishment he worked at, he was constantly praised for his jovial demeanor and friendly nature, but for Juvenal, these traits alone were not enough to pay the bills for secure housing. So, after a very transparent interview with our PODER staff, we quickly learned that what Juvie may have lacked in banking industry knowledge, he compensated with drive, determination, and dexterity and was immediately considered for enrollment.
Throughout the LIF program, Juvenal was a mentor to his peers and found each day to be filled with plenty of learning opportunities.
Juvie’s tenacity of spirit constitutes the pillars to which PODER’s LIF class is founded upon, and it is that same spirit that allowed Juvenal to ace multiple interviews with multiple partner organizations. Even though Juvenal did not have the appropriate professional attire for his interview day, he wasn’t shy in asking his instructor to help him. The team found three business suits and, with the professional look covered, it was up to Juvenal to do the rest. Using his learned knowledge and previous experiences, he nailed the interview with one of PODER’s newest partners, PNC Bank, as an associate banker. He now earns $16 an hour, has full benefit coverage, works full time, and has a home.
What sets this success story apart from the rest is the fact that Juvenal had no plan B. He needed income, he needed a change, he needed hope, and he needed to get hired. There wasn’t the option of returning to his parents’ house if things did not work out or using his savings to rent an apartment while he sought other career opportunities. This program had to work for him, and he certainly worked for everything he’s earned. This summer, he will be a panelist for PODER’s LIF Peer Mentorship Panel, and his story will continue to inspire new students then, as it continues to inspire all of us at PODER now.
Four years ago, she moved to Madison without knowing English. At the time, she was an architect with two years of experience in Colombia.
During her interview at Centro Hispano, she shared that she worked at a factory, Stoughton Trailers, where she learned a little bit of everything, and where she learned English. Centro Hispano remembered her story vividly because she mentioned she used to communicate with drawings and signs with her supervisor.
But María Isabel was relentless, and not only learned English, but has also opened her own cleaning business and began driving for Uber.
In 2018, she learned about the Caminos Finance program through a flier at Madison College. At that time, she couldn’t join, but in the fall of 2019, she took the leap and enrolled in the next cohort.
As the pandemic continued, María Isabel started doing Uber Eats as a way to keep providing for her family.
Witnessing Maria’s growth and confidence this year has been a fulfilling. María’s experience, charisma, resilience, and persistence to be better every day has taken her to where she is now. Even though it took some time for María to take the next step in her career and apply for a Customer Service Representative position, she decided to apply at Park Bank and was hired in August earning $15/hr. A month later, we received an email from María’s supervisor sharing the amazing work María was doing and that she was going to be trained to work on ITMs (Interactive Teller Machine).
We were beyond happy and excited for Maria as we knew what this meant for her, taking her confidence to the next level and being a role model for many. This is what María wrote to us in an email. “I’m very thankful for having the opportunity of being a graduate of Caminos Finance. Thanks to this opportunity, I’m growing professionally and the quality of life of family and mine is improving… just being with the best is that you can become your best and that’s what Caminos Finance is for me.”
Ana María is originally from Colombia. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from a university she attended before moving to the United States. She has five years of experience in customer service and home management in the U.S. and heard about the Latinos in Finance program through a friend.
Through her participation in the program, Ana María learned how to navigate the U.S. banking industry more effectively while also improving her English language and communication skills. She also strengthened her leadership skills as she actively participated and presented in class and organized online communications among her classmates.
Ana María was an excellent example for her peers as she facilitated discussions and encouraged other participants to share their ideas in class. After graduating from the LIF program, Ana Maria focused on preparing for her Bank of America assessment by reviewing class modules, interview exercises, and other materials provided through her course instruction. Ana Maria also worked to hone her interviewing skills and participate in online trainings.
Last April, Ana María received an offer to work at a local Bank of America branch. Even though Ana María had a degree from another country, she was working as a babysitter and a waitress in a restaurant. Now she is looking forward to new opportunities in the financial industry and continued professional growth. She is becoming even more assertive and is more comfortable speaking in public, which enhances her outgoing personality and positive attitude.
Wendi brings the passion to connect with others wherever she goes. From the first day of the Financial Services Online Training, Wendi embraced the content and the online delivery model. During her first one-on-one meeting with MCRC’s career trainer, she explained that she had been nervous to take an online class, as she had never done that before. However, it wasn’t long before she found that she enjoyed it!
Learning the content online meant that she did not have to commute from her home outside of the city to MCRC every day. She balanced attending training, completing assignments, caring for her children, and working as a delivery driver. Despite all on her plate, in addition to the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wendi continually brought a positive attitude. She learned how make her ability to connect with others in English and Spanish, as well as her other many skills, shine on her resume to show the strong contribution she would make to a bank or credit union. She says, “The best part [of the training] was working with the Mi Casa team. Everyone was supportive as well as encouraging.”
Upon completing the training, Wendi was busy applying for positions close to home. A month after graduating, Wendi got a job as a teller at a credit union. The institution was not familiar with MCRC and asked Wendi about the certificate on her resume. After she explained the Financial Services Training, the staff member remarked that her resume and interview skills were stronger than many of their other applicants. True to her passion to connect others, Wendi is already planning on collaborating between her employer and Mi Casa Resource Center in the future.
Wendi originally found Mi Casa Resource Center because she says she “had a desire to start a new career and provide a better life for my family and myself.” Now, as she explained, “I am continuing my education and looking forward to moving on to other positions in the future!”
Steven was born in Lima, Peru, and has worked for more than 10 years in the hospitality industry, taking care of customers from all the continents. He is a native Spanish speaker, is also fluent in English, and also speaks French and Portuguese.
Steven came to the United States to live openly gay, where he can live with respect, dignity, equality, and looking for a better future. He has been living in United States for about five years and enjoying every minute of it. He previously lived in California, but has since settled in Atlanta.
Before joining the Unidos in Finance program, he was a volunteer at Latin American Association in 2019, which he really enjoyed, because it gave him experience meeting new people and helping the Latino community and people in general in such many different ways, including job fairs, educational programs, finance courses, resume days, fundraised gala dinners, and more. Around October 2019, at one of the job fairs that LAA usually offers, Steven went through the interviewing process and got a job working as a front desk agent at a hotel in Midtown.
Suddenly, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and working at the hotel was not as pleasant as it was before. Steven prioritized taking care of his health while everyone was trying to figure out what the virus was and what it would bring. Unfortunately, as the pandemic continued, desperation, anxiety, layoffs, business closures, uncertainty, and unemployment started to surge. Finding a new job suddenly wasn’t simple.
Steven considers himself a proactive person and decided not to sit at home spending his savings, and faced the situation by following the health protocols and wearing a mask.
He applied and got a job in a local supermarket and was a cashier for a few months before being promoted to customer service supervisor. Steven considers himself a people person and enjoyed the experience of working there and learning new things.
Nevertheless, he was hungry for new experiences. He remembered that the LAA offered finance programs, which was why he made some calls and did research to join the LIF cohort that began in October 2020. He was still working in the supermarket in the morning and afternoon, but made time to attend evening classes, a bit tired but always with a positive mindset and the willingness to learn.
In about two months, he was able to learn and study through Zoom and gain the skills needed in order to enroll in a bank job. He liked the fact that the group of students were very diverse, with different backgrounds and nationalities. “The experience was amazing, incredible indeed, I thought I was capable to go to an interview with my resume ready, but I was not at all,” Steven said. “They really cared for every detail, they guided us until we achieved success.”
Steven also added that it was important for him to know that he was on the right path, and that the support from the teachers to the cohort had was outstanding.
“I would like to give special thanks to the LIF program because I got a job at Bank of America as a relationship banker in the middle of the cohort, which I was so thankful for, I was the first one to be hired of the group and after my graduation day on December 5, 2020, I started working on December 7, 2020,” Steven said, adding that he works regular hours, has benefits, and has a great career to grow there.
“By saying all this, I really want to add that there are tons of opportunities that life has for us, you can decide to be sitting and complaining at home… or [you] just have to stand up and look… you will find what the world has to offer. Perseverance and patience are highly required as well, especially during the pandemic, as this is a very challenging time for humanity—but everything is possible. I will share something that an online classmate said to everyone that day, we all have to be like a chameleon… able to adapt to the new environments, new circumstances… in other words… a new normal.”
To learn more about the Latinos in Finance program, you can view a one-pager outlining the program’s goals and its work here.