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Cara and BMO Harris collaborate on Workforce Development Program


Cara Chicago and BMO Harris are partnering on a workforce development program co-created to remove barriers to employment and increase access to careers in banking and finance. The two organizations extended job offers to a cohort of 12 Chicago job seekers following their inaugural hiring event, held virtually on September 16, 2020.

The program, entitled BMORE, represents a new model for both Cara and BMO in which the organizations collaborated to recruit, train and place individuals into customer service roles at the Chicago-based bank. Cara and BMO co-created each step of the program from recruitment through onboarding to support the new team members. In addition, the Customer Experience Representative (CER) job description was workshopped with Cara job seekers to better appeal to local, diverse talent.

Newly hired CERs will assist customers while building meaningful partnerships, as well as support branch operations and serve as critical brand ambassadors for BMO.

Recruitment for the BMORE program focused primarily on the Austin and Little Village neighborhoods in support of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative, which is designed to address economic disparity in key neighborhoods across the city, but the roles were open to all Cara participants. Because transportation is often a barrier to employment, candidates were considered for roles at BMO branches that are easily accessible by public transportation. Community partners Austin Coming Together, Latinos Progresando and Instituto del Progreso Latino collaborated on recruitment for the program in Austin and Little Village.

“We started building the BMORE program in 2019 to deepen our long-term connection with the communities we serve and to remove barriers to inclusion,” said Ernie (Erminia) Johannson, BMO’s group head of North American Personal and Business Banking. “That thinking inspired this collaboration with Cara – creating a pathway for people with barriers to employment to have access to a career in financial services. We’re excited to bring this first cohort into the BMO family and look forward to scaling the program in the future.”

Leveraging nearly 30 years of workforce development experience, Cara provided candidates with work readiness training, screening and skills assessment. Cara places people experiencing poverty and homelessness into nearly 1,000 jobs each year. The average one-year, same-firm retention rate for a Cara placement across all industries is approximately 70 percent.

In October, the new BMO CERs will begin their paid learning and development program before their official start date in November.

Due to COVID-19, the BMORE program needed to quickly adapt to the new environment. BMO and Cara redoubled their commitment to the program just as it was kicking off to ensure it could go forward. Recruiting, training, hiring, onboarding and learning will take place virtually during the pandemic. The team also broadened recruitment efforts to include Cara alumni whose employment was impacted by COVID-19. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the program exceeded its goal of extending 10 job offers for its inaugural cohort.

Building on this work, Cara recently announced a virtual institute series to help employers achieve similar objectives to the BMO partnership, such as diversifying their workforces with talent often sidelined by the mainstream economy and learning the tactics they can take to help that talent succeed. Two separate training cohorts will take place this fall and winter. More information, including how to register, can be found here.

Learn more about how BMO Harris is supporting its communities and removing barriers to inclusion, including partnering on United Way of Metro Chicago’s Neighborhood Network in support of the Chicago Mayor’s INVEST South/West initiative. Those funds were directed to Austin and Little Village to support their neighborhood revitalization plans. Earlier this month, the bank announced new goals in support of a diverse and inclusive workforce.



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