In 2022, nearly 60,000 Oklahomans found themselves unemployed without a way of providing for themselves or their families, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Despite their efforts, finding work proved elusive for a wide range of reasons.
According to the State Chamber Research Foundation, there were 36,000 more job postings than people searching for work – a number that led the Oklahoma City Community Foundation to dig deeper.
“We found that there wasn’t a lack of positions, rather a lack of qualifications that almost always required additional education and training people couldn’t afford,” said Jess Schwager, OCCF’s Director of Scholarship Programs who also runs OCCF’s Workforce Development Scholarships program.
Oklahoma is experiencing mass shortages in areas like nursing, truck driving, software development and early education – all of which require months, if not years, of training and education. And with education costs on the rise, going the distance can seem impossible. It was here that the Community Foundation saw a unique opportunity. By partnering with people and organizations who already have trusted relationships and strong programs, OCCF was able to meet people where they are.
“We had to understand the reasons these jobs remain unfilled,” said OCCF’s President & CEO Trisha Finnegan. “For many, stepping away from their families or existing work to learn a new skill is simply not attainable. We found local organizations working with individuals to connect them with careers they didn’t think would ever be possible. The Foundation connected people and resources to address this issue affecting so many Oklahomans and our economy.”
In spring 2023, the Community Foundation launched the Workforce Development Scholarships, aimed at helping to fill Oklahoma’s most significant employment gaps and accelerating our community’s goals for workforce development. Collaborating with eight organizations around the metro, OCCF awarded a total of $210,000 in grants to provide training opportunities to under- and unemployed individuals.
“By engaging organizations with successful programs and providing them funding, we were able to remove barriers,” Jess said. “No deadlines, no lengthy applications. We created a plan to put these grants directly into the hands of the organizations, dollars with no strings attached and no requirements beyond what they had already capably built.”
“We never want to leave people out. This grant is an opportunity for individuals to say yes, I do want to be in the program, but I do need a little bit of assistance,” said RaShaunda Lugrand, CEO & Founder of The InTune Mother Society (TIMS), an inaugural Workforce Development Scholarship grant recipient.
In 2020, TIMS partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor to launch its Pathways Program – a year-long, state-recognized certification program devoted to perinatal wellness education. Through this, they are building a pipeline of trained doulas, wellness coaches and community health workers with a focus on family planning to address gaps in perinatal health and wellness care with their program that targets the underserved, Historically Unvisible Black, Brown + Indigenous (HUB+I) population.
“We want to be very intentional,” said RaShaunda. “We are developing this workforce for the longevity and sustainability of our program so that we can serve the community the way we intend.”
Sustainability has proven to be a common thread for many of OCCF’s first round of grantees. As OCCF has partnered with and learned from them, one of the most exciting discoveries has been collaboration. Workforce development is a complicated problem, and by recognizing that no one organization fulfills all the needs of individuals seeking employment, we have seen organizations making each other stronger and achieving greater results.
Unfilled Jobs Statewide
» Data courtesy of State Chamber Research Foundation, 2021
As a leader in workforce development for more than 75 years, the Urban League of Greater Oklahoma City was a welcome environment for OCCF to learn and support. Their efforts to address under- and unemployment in Oklahoma County take a broad approach, offering training and resources and partnering with other organizations, like TIMS, to link jobseekers with occupational and support skills. With this grant, Urban League is implementing a scholarship program for at-risk populations for career or technical training, skills and college.
“These grants can serve any client. It can serve a 65-year-old senior citizen who’s trying to go back to work because they found out their retirement was not enough,” said Ollivett Brothers, Urban League’s Director of Workforce and Career Development. “It’s really open to the general public.”
For OCCF, that flexibility was crucial because we wanted to impact the areas where it was most needed.
“A lot of folks are hindered from receiving financial aid because of their backgrounds,” said Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)’s Oklahoma City Director Emily Ray.
Working with individuals exiting the prison system, CEO is quick to recognize these financial aid deficits and works hard to help their clients find opportunities. Through their programming, they guide individuals from training all the way to retention services for a year after job placement, ensuring that the people they work with receive all the resources they need.
“We’re not a court-ordered program. Folks that come in our doors are coming out on their own, and we’re just trying to figure out which program is the best for that individual,” Emily said.
The individuals visiting these organizations are striving for better, and these organizations are making a difference to each person and on a broader scale. In 2022, Oklahoma saw one of its lowest unemployment rates in more than 20 years, and of those unemployed, only 12,000 sought unemployment insurance claims, meaning 80% of those unemployed are making the effort to find jobs.
“These organizations are opening up new opportunities for Oklahomans,” said Kelley Barnes, OCCF’s Vice President of Community Engagement. “By working with them, OCCF is investing in our state’s future and the people who live here, and we are excited and encouraged by these investments in our future.”
2023 Annual Report
To see this story and more, view our 2023 Impact Report.