Written By | Steven Harris, Program Retention Coordinator

Skillpoint Alliance’s Gateway Program is a very unique opportunity for people who are on a path to self- restoration. It serves as a beacon of hope for those individuals who are undereducated, low-income, and/or ex-offenders. Gateway also provides an outlet for individuals looking for workforce training and education without accruing mountains of debt.

My name is Steven Harris, I am the Programs Retention Coordinator for Skillpoint’s Austin programming. One of my responsibilities as Programs Retention Coordinator is to conduct individual counseling to ensure the success of all of our participants in the classroom; so I act as the classroom manager, counselor, coach, their cheerleader and biggest advocate or simply as the glue of the Gateway program. The participants we serve are may suffer from low self-esteem and they can sometimes feel defeated prior to joining our program. We go the extra mile to support all of our participants the best we can, and classroom retention is essential for us to better understand where each participant is at during our program to ensure their success and complete their certification training.

The Gateway Program promotes hope; I have seen our graduates go from being homeless, living out of their car, to gaining a good job and earning a livable wage in a short period of time. The rapid-training model we use is a benefit to our participants, because in 4 to 8 weeks they can earn industry recognized credentials that qualifies them for employment regardless of their criminal history. Our program opens so many doors for an individual to achieve employment success and career development. When our participants come to us they have encountered and have all sorts of issues and barriers, it is our job to motivate, inspire, and mentor them to build self-esteem that leads to career success.

One of the tools I use to connect with all my participants is our 1 on 1 interviewing sessions; which gives me the opportunity to receive feedback on how they are doing personally and in the classroom with their peers and instructor. My time with each participant allows me to build rapport and trust, as they are already working hard to make the appropriate sacrifices to commit to our rigorous full-time schedule (our program is designed to model a full day work schedule 7:30-4, Monday through Friday), which can benefit the individuals in our program who have been unemployed or have never worked before.

Alongside my mentor-ship, my colleague William Bass and I also offer professional develop to our classes through a series of soft skills trainings that focus on resume & cover letter building, email etiquette, core values, and mock interviews; to ensure success after they leave our program.

As the Program Retention Coordinator, I often see the impact our program has on Central Texans from the time they interview for a place in an upcoming class through handing them their certificate, and it’s incredibly gratifying to help a fellow Austinite achieve steps towards employment and start a new career.