Fifth Third Bank

Fifth Third Bank’s Project SEARCH Program


Like many organizations, Fifth Third Bank experienced a recruiting need within our operations business. The operations facility at Fifth Third is a 24/7 business with multiple shifts. Positions are sometimes hard to fill, and they require a concentrated effort to find qualified candidates. In 2005, Fifth Third identified a significant shift in the demographics of potential employees for the facility. With the mature generation already exiting the workforce and baby boomers starting to plan for retirement, a new recruitment stream was needed. In addition to the talent need, we recognized shifting consumer demographics as well, and understood the business imperative to provide opportunities for independence for individuals with disabilities.

Fifth Third conducted research on individuals with disabilities and recognized the possibilities based on the following data:

  • One in five Americans has a disability.
  • Over 75 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed, while two-thirds want to work.
  • 92 percent of the Americans view companies that hire people with disabilities more favorably than those that don’t hire people with disabilities.


In 2005, at the Bank’s operations center in Madisonville, Ohio, we established a relationship with Project SEARCH, a program developed and operated out of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Project SEARCH is a one-year, school-to-work transition program for youth with disabilities. Through immersion in the business of Fifth Third, the goal of the program is for the participants to gain marketable and competitive work skills so they can move on to competitive employment at Fifth Third or elsewhere. Fifth Third Bank was the first organization outside of the healthcare industry to open a Project SEARCH program and the only bank. In preparation for the implementation of Project SEARCH, we identified entry-level positions within our organization that were hard to fill. We then analyzed the skills that would be needed for success in those roles. We established rotational opportunities that could build on those skills to help candidates become even more employable, and we have since created additional rotational opportunities. What’s more, we have replicated the program in two other areas of our business – at our corporate headquarters in downtown Cincinnati in 2007 and in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2008.


The implementation and sustainability of Project SEARCH for over a decade has had short- term and long-term impact at Fifth Third Bank:

  • 274 Project SEARCH students have participated in Project SEARCH since 2005, with 33 graduates currently employed at Fifth Third.
  • Of the 33 employees at Fifth Third, all are either meeting or exceeding performance standards.
  • The program has an overall employment placement rate of 72.1 percent.
  • Project SEARCH has opened the door for other recruitment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. We work with area colleges, vocational rehabilitation agencies and community partners to source talent.
  • To help support Project SEARCH, Fifth Third’s college leadership program participants host an annual event, Tee Off for Project SEARCH. The golf outing funds replication of Project SEARCH internationally. As of 2017, Fifth Third has raised over $1.3 million to benefit Project SEARCH.
  • Fifth Third is a recognized leader in the recruitment, training and retention of individuals with disabilities on a national level, winning a variety of awards and accolades for our success, including the 2017 Disability Matters “Employer of Choice” award from Springboard Consulting as well as the Division of Career Development and Transition Employer of the Year Award.
  • Fifth Third leveraged the success of our inclusion of individuals with disabilities within our workforce to create new banking products: our ABLE checking product allows individuals with disabilities to save for their future as well as pay for everyday expenses. Fifth Third is the only bank in the nation that offers this unique checking account product.

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