“ProjectAttain! is critical for building our regional workforce and strengthening our ability to compete for new businesses that bring good jobs with great benefits to Sacramento.”

Dave Roughton, President and CEO of SAFE Credit UnionDave Roughton, president and CEO of SAFE Credit Union, sits on ProjectAttain!’s executive committee and serves as its treasurer. After 29 years with SAFE, where he started as a minimum wage, entry level cash vault teller, Roughton is energized to envision how ProjectAttain! can help the Sacramento region attract and retain employee talent, including the 700 plus employees he calls his own.

Tell us about your roll at Safe Credit Union today.

I’m the president and CEO and it’s really fun. We have a program at SAFE for new employees. They go through a two-day onboarding session in their first few days with SAFE. Members of my executive team, and usually the chairman of the board meet, and I with them to give them a little bit of perspective on why our culture is really important to us and welcome them to SAFE. It’s always fun to tell them my story because I’m a perfect example of “anything’s possible”. Whatever their aspirations are coming in on the first day, they need to figure out what their dream job is and plan for that.

Did you have a degree coming into your first position or are you part of a comebacker story?

I’m not a comebacker. I’ve actually worked for SAFE twice. I joined them in 1983 at 23 years old and I was only the second person at the company that had a degree. Our CEO also had a degree, an MBA. I loved the organization and got a lot of training and opportunity, but I was definitely on the operational side of the business, and after six and a half years, I wanted to learn the financial side of the business. I talked to the CEO about how I could make that change and it came down to him trying to get me over to finance and accounting at some point, or going to graduate school to get my MBA and figure out where to go from there.

I went to UC Davis. I got my MBA and ended up getting hired by Arthur Anderson, a public accounting firm that’s no longer in business but was one of the big six as the time. SAFE ended up being one of my audit clients. I worked for Anderson for seven and half years. Then I went back to SAFE as their chief financial officer and I worked through various executive roles until I became president in 2013 and CEO in 2016.

It’s unusual, to only have had two employers in my career but I think there’s value to it. The message I like to send to our new employees is that SAFE is a large, growing organization and we have all types of disciplines across the company. You may not know what you want to do for your career but there’s lots of opportunity to figure that out right here at SAFE.

How did you get involved with ProjectAttain!?

Brian King [chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District] approached me when Align Capital Region was forming and asked if I’d take a look at the organization and consider joining the board. Brian Bedford was the interim CEO and I spent some time getting to know him and listening to Robert [Nelsen, president at Sacramento State] talk about his interest in this organization and what Brian though the future held for Align Capital Region. I was intrigued and I’ve been on the board throughout the transition from Align Capital Region to what is now ProjectAttain!

How would you describe what ProjectAttain! Is or does?

The easiest way to describe ProjectAttain! at a very strategic level is that it transforms people’s lives.

How so?

ProjectAttain! is an enabler for working-age adults to achieve the educational level that will make a difference in their life, whether it’s completing a high school diploma, their college degree, or a certificate to upskill their abilities to satisfy their career desires or provide for their families. I think it’s an amazing organization with unlimited potential. There are so many working-age adults in our region that have an opportunity to transform their lives by getting just a little bit more education.

The numbers phenomenal. We’re talking about more than 78,000 adults in our region who could finish and get their high school diploma or the 346,000 who are close to earning their college degree or the certificate they need to really make a difference in their life, to provide for their family, or just to achieve their goals and objectives, to achieve their dreams.

I’m in my dream job. I love my job and it’s such a rewarding place to be when you know that you’ve gotten where you’re supposed to be.

What is it that you love so much about your work?

I get to help people, whether it’s my workforce or my membership. SAFE has nearly a quarter of a million members in the region. We’re a mid-size regional financial institution that serves the middle market. We’re a low-income designated credit union and about 50% of our membership is low income so we really get a chance to make a difference in people’s lives by providing affordable loan products at lower prices, or deposit products at higher prices or lower fee structures than our for-profit banking competitors.

How does this intersect with your work with ProjectAttain!?

At SAFE we have a mandate to serve those who are underserved, and I think ProjectAttain! is similar in that there are people out there who are underserved in their education. It’s not that they can’t, it’s that they haven’t yet. They’re on the precipice on getting a credential that can really make a different in their lives and the lives of others around them. That’s why I’m involved with the board.

How do you see that playing out at the regional level?

The numbers of people for whom this can make a difference can also have a huge economic impact on our region. As the CEO of a business in Sacramento, our success is dependent on our community’s success. We’re only going to be as successful as the communities we serve and elevating people’s abilities,  capabilities, and opportunities to achieve raises everybody up.

As we’re trying to attract businesses to the region to bring in new, good paying jobs, they’re looking for communities that have talent, and we have talent. If we could make a dent in these numbers and turn some of these numbers around? We already measure up well in comparison to other like metropolitan cities that we compete with for talent but this would put us over the top.

There’s absolutely a war for talent right now and with the pandemic it’s become even more acute. When people can work from home, they realize that their prospects for employment open dramatically. It’s a challenge to hold on to your talent and the more talented people we have in our region with the required skills and credentials to compete for the jobs that businesses need, that’s where we win the ball game.

On a personal level, why are you passionate about ProjectAttain!?

Because I know we’re making a difference for the region. As a leader in a local company, it’s my responsibility to give back to the community, to make sure that everyone succeeds. SAFE is doing well, we’re succeeding, but I want to make sure everybody succeeds, and ProjectAttain! contributes to the foundation of what makes the Sacramento region an amazing place to live.

I believe in the mission. I believe it’s critical for building our regional workforce and strengthening our ability to compete for new businesses that bring good jobs with great benefits to Sacramento, to employ Sacramentans. If our communities aren’t healthy, if we don’t have great employment choices, then the region will struggle, and I don’t want to see that happen.

How does SAFE Credit Union approach employee training and education?

We have a robust organizational development team at SAFE that continually develops means and methods for strengthening our workforce. It goes back to that war for talent. If I’m not investing in and developing my workforce and giving them new skills to grow and to achieve their career objectives, then somebody else will. I want to hold on to my talent. So we invest aggressively in training and development.

I see ProjectAttain! as a great opportunity to introduce a new employee benefit to SAFE’s workforce. If ProjectAttain! can offer a solution, an easier path to get over those hurdles for someone who wanted to  their degree? All I ever heard from people was “Oh my gosh, I started my degree 10 years ago and there’s no way I can take calculus again,” or finding ways for the work they’ve already accomplished to count for something. I’m not saying I understand all of those dynamics, but ProjectAttain! breaks down some of those barriers and creates pathways for folks to move up the educational attainment ladder. If I could offer that path for my workforce, I think that’s a powerful incentive.

At SAFE we offer reimbursement for going to school, but it’s kind of an antiquated approach and I’m looking forward to having an opportunity to bring forward a 21st century view of what employee education can look like. I’m sure that within those numbers of working-age adults who need a degree or diploma, a portion of my 700 plus employees are probably in there and are very close to obtaining a degree or a diploma.

I want to find ways to retain my talent and I think ProjectAttain! can help create a new employee incentive for our workforce.