Four years ago Gloria Michaels gave up her waitressing job-she couldn't find late-night baby sitters for her children-and went on welfare.
Now she's a full-time teller at Harris Bank in Chicago, making about $8 an hour.
Like a growing number of banks, the Bank of Montreal subsidiary is turning a social problem into a staff resource.
Though many banks are cutting staff as a result of mergers, they often have trouble filling entry-level jobs. So banks are logical partners for welfare-to-work programs, the controversial linchpin of recent efforts at federal and state welfare reform.
It was through one such program that Ms. Michaels got her job. In April the 38-year-old mother of five completed a program at Wright College in Chicago that teaches welfare recipients the skills necessary for bank teller work. Harris hired her right out of that program.
Banks began to recruit from the ranks of welfare recipients several years ago, said Kenneth Windisch, vice president of human resources at Harris.
The bank began forming partnerships about six years ago with various job-training programs, he said. A relationship with Truman College, another Chicago school, has led to the hiring of about 200 tellers over six years, he said.
However, the Wright College program is specifically designed to train people to be bank tellers. It's one of several industry-specific training programs at the school. Three other Chicago banks, LaSalle National, South Shore, and Heritage/Pullman, have agreements with Wright to interview program graduates.
"From an employer's perspective, this is a good resource," said Nancy Bellew, program developer at Wright College.
Ms. Bellew would like to expand the college's fledgling program. This year's third 13-week class for bank tellers begins this month. Wright plans to start a new series of classes in January, and it intends to add a program that trains welfare recipients to become personal bankers.
The Wright program, which consists of 300 hours of training, is funded by a combination of city and federal money. It costs about $1,800 per participant.
Not everyone gets hired. In the first class, which ended in April, 11 of 17 graduates were offered bank jobs. A class of 10 was graduated Aug. 29, and one person has been offered a job, Ms. Bellew said.
"Often what you see is people who get knocked out of the box by major life problems," Ms. Bellew said. "We're taking people who are not ready to be hired by banks and bringing them to employability."
The Chicago banks are not the only ones recruiting from welfare ranks. Marshall & Ilsley Corp., Milwaukee, has hired about 120 former welfare recipients as tellers in the past year, said David Mauer, vice president of human resources. Unlike the Chicago banks, Marshall & Ilsley is doing a lot of its own training.
Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to adopt welfare reform-it took effect Sept. 1-and Marshall & Ilsley gets tax credits for hiring.
"With a shortage of people out there, it's an additional source of employment candidates," Mr. Mauer said. "It's certainly in the spirit of the community, but it's also helping us with our needs."
Marshall & Ilsley has actively recruited at job fairs and by advertising in community, and especially minority, newspapers, Mr. Mauer said.
NBD Bank in Indiana, a unit of First Chicago NBD Corp., started hiring four years ago from a company that specializes in job training for welfare recipients, said Tina Bowles, assistant vice president and human resources representative.
Ms. Bowles said the agreement with America Works Inc., New York, started out as a philanthropic activity. But Indiana's unemployment rate has declined, and the program supplies plentiful job applicants. The banking company has hired about 40 people through America Works, mostly for clerical jobs, of whom 20 are still working, she said.
Although First Chicago is not involved in a welfare-to-work program in its home market, it has discussed such programs, said company spokesman Thomas Kelly.