Bank of America Intern Program Battles Veteran Unemployment

When many veterans return home from active military duty, they find it difficult to explain how their skills translate into the world of corporate America.  Because of that, they face higher rates of unemployment compared to their civilian counterparts.  In fact, the Department of Veterans Affairs states that among vets ages 18 to 24, the jobless rate sits at 17.1%, compared to non-veterans of the same age who face an unemployment rate of 12.2%. For context, the Labor Department reported last week the jobless rate in America is hovering at 5%, down a bit from 5.1% in September.

It’s a statistic Anthony Amodeo knows all too well.

After 11 years in the Navy, he decided it was time to transition out of active service, which would allow him to spend more time with his growing family. He spent the final two years of his service – which included three deployments to various locations all across the Western Pacific, the Arabian Gulf, and the Horn of Africa – thinking about and preparing to make the decision to join the civilian world.

He was living in San Diego at the time, and he found it difficult to make a personal connection with anyone in New York or other places across the country where he was applying for jobs.

“It was very hard for me to effectively network and get my face in front of people from a distance…Once I moved back [to New York], it was difficult to make the connection until I was actually here in person…I spent a couple of months looking around, making phone calls, sending emails, and trying to make those personal connections,” he said.

And then, as he describes it, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time when he learned about an internship program Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) offered for veterans.

“I had been looking around at different opportunities, trying to network as much as I could with other veterans to find out where other opportunities might be,” he explained.

Fast forward several months, and a person whom he’d met through a networking opportunity for another job called him to explain how the program worked, and encouraged him to apply.

“There were a series of interviews, both by phone and in person, but really, over a few weeks, everything unfolded and I found myself in the bank for my first day of work,” Amodeo said.

Determined to Succeed

Bank of America’s Veterans Associate Program is a 10-week program designed to help transitioning veterans find their fit in the fabric of America’s corporate culture. The program offers veterans a chance to rotate through the bank’s global banking and markets division including positions in investment banking, capital markets, sales and trading, global wealth investment management, global risk, and others.

The program started with just seven people in a pilot course – it was so successful that all seven of those interns were hired, and managers at the bank clamored to have more veterans on their teams.

“Vets don’t want you to give them anything, they want to earn that spot. We just have to find the right opportunity for them, and put them in."

- Lewis Runnion, Bank of America Director of Military Affairs

“We created this program specifically designed to target those veterans who were coming off active duty,” Lewis Runnion, director of military affairs at Bank of America, said. “We understood their financial acumen could be lacking. We felt like we could teach them that. We knew what they had – that we weren’t getting from traditional recruiting methods – was these tremendous leadership skills that they had learned over five, eight, 11 years of service.”

Runnion said the vets were capable of learning the ropes of the financial industry once they got their foot in the door. But it was the life skills they learned on active duty – skills they could never have learned on Wall Street -- that helped give the bank an advantage.

“The biggest benefit to Bank of America in hiring veterans is it changes our culture. Were’ adding to our team men and women who have leadership skills that are unparalleled in the civilian environment…I argue that these are very special people, and by adding them to my team, we are impacting the culture in a very positive way,” Runnion, who is an Army veteran himself, explained.

But it was a program that almost didn’t get the green light.

“To be frank with you, when we came up with this concept, there was a lot of pushback. We were hiring well through our campus programs. We wanted to try this through a test pilot. Anthony was in one of our pilot programs and the feedback has just been overwhelming to the point that we’re creating these internships in every line of business at Bank of America…

He added that former interns turned employees, like Amodeo, who is now beginning his third year, are starting to take on more leadership roles at the bank and excel in their personal career development.

Amodeo said there’s a feeling of satisfaction knowing he’s played a role in helping prove the value of the internship program, and help other veterans along the way – while also carving out a niche for himself in the high-stakes world of financial services.

In fact, Amodeo’s hard work has paid off in spades. He was brought on after the internship program to work as a liquidity specialist, and was recently promoted to vice president of global transaction services.

“It’s really satisfying because people really do have an ownership of [the program],” he said. “The veterans network within the bank and other senior executives who were not veterans themselves, have really bought in sincerely to the importance of veteran hiring. And it’s a really great place to be.”

Since 2010, the bank has hired nearly 9,000 veterans, Guard and Reserve members thanks in part to its internship program. By the end of this year, it hopes to add another 2,000 vets to its ranks.

Runnion made clear that while the opportunities are there, veterans don’t want to be handed a free lunch: They want to prove they have the dedication, skills, and determination to succeed in any task they take on.

“Vets don’t want you to give them anything, they want to earn that spot. We just have to find the right opportunity for them, and put them in,” Runnion said.