Banking on our youth

Clark County Skills Center Director Dennis Kampe

Clark County Skills Center Director Dennis Kampe
Clark County Skills Center Director Dennis Kampe said his organization’s finance program has been able to successfully adapt to changes in the banking industry by relying on the expertise of a 14-member board comprised of industry experts. Photo: Buck Heidrick
Representatives of local credit unions approached the Skills Center staff in 1987, looking for a way to prepare skilled employees. Since then, the program has graduated at least 25 students per year in partnership with several local financial institutions.

Approximately 40 students attending the program each year come from all Clark County school districts, except Green Mountain.

Students and Clark County skills center
The Financial Customer Services program helps local students develop the necessary skills for banking and finance-related careers. Photo: Buck Heidrick
“The only prerequisite is an interest in working in, or continuing education in, the program they take,” said
Dennis Kampe, director of
the Skills Center.

Students attend two and a half hours per day, 540 hours per year, either in the morning or afternoon, while attending their main high school the other half of the school day.

“We have 14 board members who help us determine the needs of the industry, then incorporate those needs into our curriculum,” Kampe said.

Current FCS board members are: Jamie Dotson, Yelena Laysheskiy and Armand Stevens from iQ Credit Union; Valerie Berrissoul and Krista Holland from Riverview Community Bank; Naomi Camargo from Umpqua Bank; Erin Cates from Sterling Bank; Rachel Cryblskey from Columbia Credit Union; Marcia Judkins from West Coast Bank; Teresa Manciu and Tony Ruestig from Twin Star Credit Union; Jan Stockton from Stockton & Associates, P.C.; and Harry White from Waddell & Reed.

“With the board, we review the curriculum every four years,” said Kampe, “We look to see if we are meeting current industry needs, identify future needs, and put resources in place to close the gaps.”

Students in the program staff the Skills Center’s on-campus branch of iQ Credit Union, one of six on-campus high school branches throughout Clark County. Other high schools hosting student-run iQ Credit Unions, often staffed by Skills Center students at their main school, are Battle Ground, Union, Camas, Skyview and Evergreen.

“It all started with an accounting class in Ridgefield who wanted to start a business as a project in 1996,” said Dannette LaChappelle, senior vice president of marketing, and chief communications officer for iQ Credit Union. “The student-run branches are fully functional. They offer full deposit and withdrawal services, though they don’t do loans.”

In a Skills Center survey of the program’s recent alumni, 100 percent of the 2010 graduates, and 90 percent of 2009 graduates were either working in banking, or continuing their education in a related field. This is even higher than the average Skills Center trend, across all 14 professional programs, of 68 percent either working or continuing their education in the field they studied.

The FCS program draws more women than men, according to Kampe, and has done so from the start. Each class tends to be about two-thirds female, with an interest in banking or math.

Beyond gender trends, the students vary, Kampe said, with many levels of academic history. Like the rest of the Skills Center, about one-third of the students are on their main school’s
honor roll.

“We’re the only school that can say 10 percent our students are in the top 5 percent of their class,” he said. “And often, students with low GPAs in traditional settings find they succeed better here, with our hands-on environment.”

Current student Wyatt Dallasta, a junior at Camas High School said, “It’s the only program that puts you on the front line in the banking industry and customer service field.”

Beyond banking skills, the program is relevant to many areas of customer service, Kampe said. “These skills go hand-in-hand in banking.”

LaChappelle praised the program’s thorough curriculum.

“Often companies are concerned about hiring someone with no work experience, no idea how to function in a work place,” she said. “These students learn interview skills, professional behavior and business problem solving skills. Kids learn job skills they can take anywhere, regardless of what they do later, whether they go to college or not.”

She added that the students are learning valuable financial literacy for their own lives.

“A big challenge in banking today is to teach people to manage their personal
finances, especially with so many electronic mobile options,” she said.

Portland US Bank human resources manager Alysha Raner attended the program in 2001-2002, and credits teacher Jolyn Collie there with fueling the launch of her career.

Raner worked her way up from part-time teller, to merchant teller, vault teller, teller supervisor, and then to  human resources.

“I work for a great company and enjoy accomplishments here. I go to work every day loving my job, and that is a rare thing. I’m so glad that [the Skills Center is] still teaching and preparing students to enter the financial industry. It really is a great career with so many opportunities,” Raner said.

To current students, the 2003 Heritage High School graduate noted, “I hope they realize the great mentor they have in front of them, and I hope they soak up all they can while in class.”

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