We speak to Ryan Alexander, the Branch Manager at CBA Dubbo, who shares his passion for the Indigenous School-based Trainee program and James Barker, an exceptional trainee and now a full-time banker, who talks about how the program kick-started his banking career at 15.
Q. Ryan, how did you get involved in supporting the Indigenous School-based Trainee program?
Ryan: “When I moved to Dubbo in 2009 as Branch Manager, the program was already in place with James Barker in the second year of his traineeship. James worked with us as an employee one day a week in Year 11 and 12.”
Q. Why do you believe in this program?
Ryan: “Sometimes I see a young person and think, I would love to bring you into the branch and give you a taste of what working life is like – to show you what it’s like to have a career and how fulfilling that can be. Our trainees come straight out of school and don’t know what they can do. I like to help these students and give them an idea of what working life can be like, to experience what life can be like after school and how they can build a career in the bank. I back this program in every single way. If I could have 10 trainees, I’d have 10 of them!”
Q. Does your own personal story affect how you think about the traineeships?
Ryan: “Yes, it has. No one grows up and dreams of having a career in banking. But it’s important to show young people that it’s a viable and rewarding career. Personally, I didn’t finish school and I worked for a couple of years. Then a job came up in the Bank, and I haven’t looked back since. The opportunities I’ve had – for travel, living in other parts of Australia, developing my career – have been incredible. And the Bank will support you as long as you’re willing to work hard and give it a go. It was true for me and it’s true for our trainees.”
Q. James, what about your story?
James: “My mum’s side of the family is Aboriginal and my Dad is European. They met in Broken Hill 24 years ago. Dad’s a lawyer. He was passionate about Aboriginal Rights and Mum was a teacher. She comes from a family with 16 siblings – all hard workers, a lot of them in businesses. I think it’s amazing that 40,000 years ago these two cultures didn’t know the other existed. I guess I grew up respecting both sides, respecting all people, the way different cultures think differently.”
Q. Why did you apply for the Traineeship?
James: “I was 15 and in Year 10 when I started the traineeship. I just put my application in and got the call back. I was in the Dubbo Branch while I was doing Year 11 and 12. I travelled a bit during my traineeship. I worked in a branch in Brewarrina, which was great because my family was from that area. Being in my family’s community was really good.”
Q. How did your family feel about you working in their local CBA?
James: “I was young and banking is a serious business. It’s a customer service role but it’s important, about people’s finances. My family was pretty proud of me – they were stoked to see me in a position like that. They knew I was a trustworthy person and they referred their friends to come and see me. I was still quite young. I wasn’t even 18 yet.”
Q. You did well in your traineeship – is that because you connect with people?
James: “Building relationships with people is the biggest thing. You’ve got to feel comfortable to talk to your banker, to trust them to talk about your personal life and your finances. I get a lot of good feedback from people. Something I’ve always done – my family history – is about being respectful to people. I’ve always had to deal with different kind of people. I try to give respect to everyone I talk to. I guess I’ve always bridged two cultures. And respect is how I deal with people.”
Q. Ryan, what qualities are you looking for in the trainees?
Ryan: “We’re looking for commitment: for students who will turn up on time, accept feedback, and belong like a regular staff member would. We also want students who ask questions and become involved – people who will develop themselves and step up to the plate. Overcoming shyness is one of the challenges.”
Q. Why do you think the program works?
Ryan: “Actually, James is the perfect example. He came to the Dubbo branch to do his traineeship and we hired him. He’s one of the best staff I have in Dubbo. We’ve had a few bumps along the road, but James is able to take feedback, look at the big picture and take learning on board as a young person. We’re proud of all that he’s achieved. James does some of the Concierge work in the branch. He thrives on being at the door, talking to customers and forging relationships. I’ve had customers say to me, “I recommend anyone to come and see James – he cares so much about his customers”. The care that he takes is above and beyond anything he’s required to do. People like James reach outside themselves and help people.”
Q. Would you say the program changes lives?
Ryan: “Absolutely. We make a difference person by person. Here’s the program in a nutshell: you give an Indigenous young person the opportunity to work in one of the most highly respected professions in the community. You have people walking through the door and seeing this person do their job and do it well. And I can tell you that a lot of our customers come in and love to be served by our trainees. We’re building a career and a future for our young Australians, one person at a time.”