I often hear the unemployed and underemployed criticized as having no plan. I'm sure at same point we've all said something like this: "They don't want to change. They got themselves here. They don't want a job." I cringe to think how many opportunities to save and/or change a life I have missed because I put stereotypical conditions on who deserved my resources and time.
Numbers like those reported by the Oklahoma Governor's Council for Workforce and Economic Development in 2011 should make us reconsider these attempts to "write off" the under employed of Oklahoma. Often, the barrier holding individuals from gainful employment is not lack of motivation or desire; it's lack of education and training, and lack of access to resources that provide it. Consider this: "One out of four workforce age adults in Oklahoma lack the basic skills needed to succeed in an occupational training course or a knowledge-based job."
If Oklahoma'a economy is going to grow, our housing market thrive, and our cost of living stay (relatively) low, we must take action to change this statistic. No workforce or economy could sustain this trend! Researchers at Georgetown University predict that by 2018, 57 percent of Oklahoma's jobs will require a post-secondary degree. The bad news? Only 30 percent of Oklahoma adults currently have a post-secondary degree, and many more lack the credentials to enroll in a post-secondary institution. If something is not done, our state's numbers will continue to decline, as employers outsource jobs to other states and populations.
Forty-four percent of Oklahoma's workforce make 70 percent less than the state's average annual salary. That's a huge disconnect. It also explains the vicious cycle of poverty - individuals in low-paying jobs need skills training and higher education in order to land a better (i.e. higher paying) job, but cannot take the time off to pursue the training and education they need, cannot pay the cost to pursue further education, and often, must support a family in the process.
A persons attitude doesn't typically need to be changed all that much: it's the barriers that must be torn down and removed. We must stop punishing high school dropouts, ex-offenders and others trapped in cycles of poverty for the choices they or others made long ago.
TEEM is working to make the education and skills training necessary for at-risk adults to gain meaningful employment accessible to all. By providing GED preparation, soft skills, job skills and life skills training free of charge in-house, we equip individuals with the confidence and tools they need to move up in the workplace. In addition, we do our best to porvide individuals with the resources for specific certifications - like CDL or CNA licensing - whenever possible. Combined with an active social services department, we use our funds to help students pay the cost to replace ID's, birth certificates and more when needed.
Adult education is a scary issue that seems too overwhelming to tackle. But, I am confident we are doing our part to equip and empower individuals to fulfill Oklahoma's needs. Join us in this endeavor!
-Written by Anna Geary, PR & Communications Coordinator