March 29, 2017
Written by Katie Kuhn, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County
Nine years ago, U.S. Bank Business Information Officer and SVP Prescott Balch recognized a problem common to many companies: the demand for software development continues to rise and continues to outpace new entrants to the field from traditional academic institutions. "Companies rely ever more on their technology, so demand for our skills increases a healthy amount every year. Employers prefer hiring only people with experience, because the work needs to get done fast and right. That approach to staffing seems to be preventing enough people from entering the field," reflects Balch.
In answer to this problem, Balch decided to look for talent close to home. He and his team developed a 12-week software development training program for anyone at U.S. Bank interested in a career change and able to pass an analytical aptitude test and interview-- no prior programming experience required. Upon being accepted into the program, these employees are then hired on as an entry-level software developers at U.S. Bank.
Balch recognizes that this training program has been valuable both to his business-- solving his aging workforce problem-- and to the trainees. “We are finding high quality, smart, hard-working people from all corners of the bank and moving them into a fantastic career path with tremendous growth potential,” says Balch. “The company wins by developing more talent to meet its technology demand. The employees win with a great career path.” To date, 76 people have completed the training and are working in computer programming and software development at U.S. Bank. The program has even expanded to U.S. Bank offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; and Cincinnati, Ohio.
While listening to a presentation on United Way’s new initiative around ALICE (Asset-Limited Income-Constrained Employed, or families with incomes above the Federal Poverty Level but not at the level of the basic cost of living) at the IT United CIO Forum on February 17, Balch felt compelled to share the story of his training program:
“We started this program to solve the simple problem of just getting more software development work done,” says Balch. “But in the process, we realized we are changing people’s lives. One graduate in particular shared with me recently that making ends meet for his young family was tough until he landed in our training program. He told me ‘The opportunity you provided me made an overnight difference to my family, and I have significant career growth still ahead of me.’ I’m not usually at a loss for words, but I didn’t know what to say. This training program allowed him to improve the quality of life for his family. To this day, it moves me just to talk about it."
Says Balch, “listening to the ALICE presentation and looking at the statistics of how many people in Wisconsin fall into this population, I felt that I had to share my story.” Today, Balch is happy to have developed a program that allows him to keep his business running smoothly, give back to people, and pay it forward: “When I was 22, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy, a manager took a chance on me with an invitation to become a programmer trainee, and my career took off. I am proud to be paying that back through this program."