When Rose State talks about being a community college, it’s not just because of the location or the degree programs we offer. To us, being a community college is truly about impacting the community around us.
Through our EmPower and EmPower Works programs, Rose State offers a second chance to unemployed or underemployed individuals by providing free job training, coaching, and education. To be eligible for the program, participants must qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), but once accepted, participants pay nothing, and many find employment within a few short weeks or months.
EmPower and EmPower Works both share the ultimate goal of gainful employment for participants. Through a TANF qualification, students are eligible for childcare assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and temporary medical insurance while they participate in either program. However, there are a few key differences between EmPower and EmPower Works.
“EmPower is a partnership with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education,” says Twyler Earl, director of both programs at Rose State. “EmPower provides vocational training that leads to employability.”
EmPower offers a fast-track course structure that can be completed within 8 to 10 weeks. In this 35 hour-per-week program, students can pursue credits toward their Associate’s degree or toward a college certificate. Either way, EmPower students practice skills vital to professional success, from Microsoft Office mastery to customer service and office management. The goal is to prepare participants for a career with growth potential.
“EmPower Works, on the other hand, is a direct partnership with the Department of Human Services,” Earl explains. “Students participate in a structured program where the goal is to have gainful employment at the end of four weeks. I’m happy to say that, on average, we get them employed before the four weeks is up.”
The month-long intensive program is geared toward individuals who have not been exposed to many of the “secrets of the workplace” that can come with general career experience. Earl explains, “In the first week of the EmPower Works program, we take you through résumé writing, how to put together a cover letter, and how to write a good thank you note.” Earl points out that many students in the program have never compiled a résumé and don’t have much experience with professional interviews. EmPower Works makes sure they are prepared. “We’ll have students practice in mock interviews, and if students don’t have nice clothes to wear when they go out on interviews, we partner with an organization that can provide business attire.”
EmPower Works pairs students with a job coach who works with each individual one-on-one to provide support both academically and emotionally, while helping each student put the skills they’ve learned into practice.
The EmPower staff at Rose State is not here to judge — only to help. “We do have a certain percentage of students who may not have made the best choices to give them the best access to certain jobs. It doesn’t mean a good job is out of the question. It just means that you made some mistakes. And we’re here to provide resources — whether that’s physical, emotional, or academic resources — that our students can trust,” Earl says.
The staff also realizes that every situation, and every family, is unique. Earl adds, “About 90 percent of our students are single parents. We have worked with couples before, but usually, they’re raising kids on their own. Some may have been through a tragedy, or they may have been laid off. We try to build a real support system around that family.”
EmPower and EmPower Works participants can receive emotional counseling and financial counseling free of charge.
EmPower participants can rest assured that they won’t be abandoned once they exit the program. Every job coach follows up with his or her students for up to six months. “We call the students two to four times a month once they finish the program to make sure everything’s going well, but they know they can call us anytime,” Earl says.
The most popular areas of study with EmPower and EmPower Works include administrative assistant job training and business or social science studies for the college credit track. “We really want to bridge that gap – not only by helping them get the job, but preparing them to be promoted and in a position that gives them room to grow.”
If, once employed, a former EmPower student comes across a skill he or she needs help with, they are welcome to come back for additional coaching. “We like to say, ‘Once EmPower, always EmPower,’” Earl says. She also points out that many students have a passion for helping others and giving back. EmPower and EmPower Works provide volunteer opportunities, working with the Regional Food Bank and other organizations, and many students are now employed through Goodwill Industries because of connections made while volunteering.
Overseeing two busy training programs and investing in each participant keeps Earl and her staff busy, but to her, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing her students succeed in the real world. “On those days when you’re drowning in paperwork, it only takes one student to make you say ‘It’s worth it.’”
For more information about EmPower and EmPower Works, contact a staff member.