When Craig Biss was in seventh grade, he watched the twin towers fall after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and felt compelled to do something. He told his parents that night he wanted to serve in the military.
“I was only 13,” said Biss, a customer service operations manager in Wells Fargo’s Consumer Lending Group. “I joined at 17, and I just wanted to serve my country and move on. I was not focused on a career with the military.”
Biss served for five years, including a deployment to Iraq. He earned a college degree in legal studies during his time in the military, and started working for Wells Fargo as a phone representative in the mortgage division after returning to life as a civilian. While looking for a way to move up in his career, he found the ApprenticeshipUSA program for veterans.
Wells Fargo launched the U.S. Department of Labor program in May 2017, joining more than 150,000 other employer participants. Each receives training tools to develop a highly skilled workforce and provide veterans the opportunity to earn a salary while also learning additional skills to succeed in high-demand civilian careers.
“Hiring veterans is a top priority for Wells Fargo,” said Lance LaVergne, head of Talent Acquisition Strategy and Programs for Wells Fargo. “The ApprenticeshipUSA program is a great way for us to attract and retain eligible veterans who have strong leadership skills and other abilities, but who may not have as much financial industry knowledge or experience.”
Eligible veterans apply for an apprenticeship for a specific job and must not meet or exceed the required qualifications of the post-apprenticeship role. If accepted, they work with hiring managers and mentors, receive training to acquire the additional skills the post-apprenticeship role will require, and use their GI Bill educational resource benefits — or Vocational Rehabilitation Funds if they were disabled while in the military — to receive a tax-free monthly payment. This funding makes up for the difference between the apprentice salary and the salary of the job they are training for.
‘Reach higher and seek excellence’
Wells Fargo is piloting the ApprenticeshipUSA program for veterans in its Community Bank; Consumer Lending Group; and Payments, Virtual Solutions and Innovation division. As of January, 12 apprenticeships are underway, and an additional 19 postings are in progress. Unlike many other employers offering the program, Wells Fargo does not hire in cohorts. Because of the training and professional development Wells Fargo offers, it is able to hire participants as roles become available.
Biss’ situation is unique since he was already a Wells Fargo team member when he started his apprenticeship in September 2017. He learned about the ApprenticeshipUSA program through Wells Fargo’s Veterans’ Team Member Network while he was a customer service supervisor for front-line team members. He was eager to advance his career into management and did not meet the qualifications of the customer service manager role, so the program was a good fit.
Biss’ current title is customer service operations manager military apprentice for Wells Fargo’s Consumer Lending Group. While in the apprenticeship program, he is taking 144 hours of coursework on management and meeting regularly with a mentor. When the program ends after a year and he has completed his coursework, he will become a customer service manager — and will no longer be considered an apprentice.
“I’ve always been a firm believer in taking chances and furthering opportunities,” Biss said. “The apprenticeship program gave me the opportunity to manage managers. Before, I was managing front-line team members as a supervisor. This program is allowing me to further my understanding of management. I decided to go for it. The military teaches you to reach higher and seek excellence in everything you do.”
ApprenticeshipUSA is one of many programs Wells Fargo offers that help veterans transition to careers as civilians. Others include the Veteran Employment Transition Internship Program, American Corporate Partners mentorships, and scholarships and emergency grants through Scholarship America®. Wells Fargo has also committed to employing 20,000 veterans by 2020.
Biss said he knows how challenging it can be to transition from military to civilian life and is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the program. “Military culture is designed as a one size fits all for everyone,” he said. “At Wells Fargo, we put people first. The mission is still important, but everything we do here is for our customers and team members. That’s one of the big differences. Wells Fargo genuinely cares about veterans’ transition. If you’re coming out of the military, this is a great opportunity.”