Carolina Ferreira doesn’t fit the traditional profile of a Wall Street employee.
Having left high school at 17 and with no college education, Ferreira’s initial understanding of white-collar jobs came mostly from television shows like Suits. It wasn’t that Ferreira had a tough time believing she’d ever work in finance. It wasn’t even a consideration.
“I never had any exposure to the corporate world. Not even like by third-hand by my parents or family members,” said Ferreira, who parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic. “It was just nothing I’ve ever seen. So just nothing I could ever imagine for myself.”
And yet, Ferreira did just that. After going back to high school at 20 to get her diploma, Ferreira enrolled in NPower, a non-profit that trains military veterans and young adults from underserved communities for careers in tech. Through NPower, Ferreira landed an internship at Bank of America in 2017 working as a technical support analyst for the bank’s FICC trading floor.
It was quite the introduction to finance for Ferreira, who was tasked with ensuring the information flow between salespeople and traders on complex transactions was seamless.
“It was insanely overwhelming,” said Ferreira of her first day on the job. “I had nervous sweats for half the day.”
Nerves aside, Ferreira excelled, and enjoyed, her new role. She was offered work as a contractor after her internship ended, and then eventually a full-time position working with the commodity trading floor.
Ferreira’s experience is just one of the many success stories to come out of NPower.
Founded in 1999, NPower runs programs out of eight regions in the US and Canada, serving roughly 1,400 students annually, Bertina Ceccarelli, CEO of NPower, told Business Insider. Students receive 16 weeks of classroom instruction across a variety of tech topics and also participate in a paid internship that runs a minimum of seven weeks. The majority of students have no formal training in technology beforehand, and most either have little or no college education.
NPower says after completion of the program, which is free, about 80% of graduates either continue their education or get jobs.
“Our mission, I like to say at the highest level, really is to move people from poverty to the middle class,” Ceccarelli said.
Read more: Bank of America’s summer internship will be entirely virtual. A talent exec runs through how the bank’s 2,000 global interns will learn, network, and volunteer without stepping into an office.
A Bank of America executive has ties to NPower
While NPower works with a variety of industries — placing grads at consulting, pharmaceutical, and consumer packaged goods companies — financial services remains one of its biggest participants, Ceccarelli said.
Bank of America, in particular, has been a strong supporter of the organization, hiring 63 students out of NPower’s New York program, with employees also volunteering over 4,600 hours of their time through activities such as guest lectures.
The executive leading those efforts is David Reilly, who leads global banking and markets, enterprise risk and finance technology and core technology infrastructure at Bank of America and serves as board chair for NPower.
Reilly has a non-traditional background himself, having not attended college. As a result, he told Business Insider, he always looks to give back to those who find themselves in similar situations as he did all those years ago.
And that work has paid off, Reilly said, who estimated some of the best people he’s hired have been those with the right attitude and curiosity, as opposed to a laundry list of degrees from prestigious universities.
“What I’ve found you get back in return is an incredible amount of loyalty and drive and that these people will run through walls for you. And then they will go on to have astonishing careers,” Reilly said.
“They need someone to give them a chance, to give them an opportunity. And my experience has been if you do that, the balance of trade is way in the corporations favor. And what you get back in return, it’s just astonishing,” he added.
NPower can also serve to fill gaps around data science and diversity
To be sure, there are commercial benefits to the program as well. Reilly said as companies rely more heavily on tech, there is a greater need to fill entry-level roles that require IT skills. He cited one estimate that suggests there will be 3.5 million unfilled technology jobs by 2021.
In particular, Reilly said data science will be the biggest need. While things like cyber and basic coding skills are all important, experience handling data will be in the highest demand.
“The resource that everybody is now grappling with is that of data. You speak to anybody at any large corporation they’ll tell you, ‘I don’t lack for data. I lack for insight. If only I could draw more insight from the data that I’ve got, I could serve my clients better,” Reilly said.
However, that’s not to say graduates from prestigious universities will no longer be sought after by Wall Street firms. While tech, compared to investment banking or trading, has more flexibility to recruit outside of so-called target schools, those who attend the most exclusive colleges being offered the best opportunities in finance is a trend that’s not likely to end anytime soon.
NPower also provides an opportunity for companies to tap into a more diverse talent pool from underserved backgrounds, a consideration nearly all of corporate America has reevaluated more seriously in recent weeks.
Reilly said Bank of America will continue to work hard to provide entry-level opportunities via the program. As for NPower, he said the organization will look to be more public about how it can help companies in need technical talent from more diverse backgrounds.
“You win whichever way you cut it. You get access to terrific talent. You get to help kids that really need it. You get to do right by a community in which you operate and which you serve. And you get talent in your organization with a level of drive, commitment, loyalty, energy and determination that you just can’t teach,” he said.
SEE ALSO: Bank of America’s summer internship will be entirely virtual. A talent exec runs through how the bank’s 2,000 global interns will learn, network, and volunteer without stepping into an office.