The mission of adult education recently underwent an expansion through which it targets employment.

“Adult education, that’s the GED place right,” asks Regina Olson, who oversees the program for Arkansas Tech University Ozark campus, which administers the program in Booneville. “And it is, that’s where you go to get your GED. It is an alternative pathway for many students and I’m glad that we have that ability.”

But, Olson says, the federally and state funded operation has actually expanded.

“They decided we have services that are all for the same client so we need to put those people together,” said Olson. “Therefore providing more 360 (degree) services for clients.”

To do that adult education was grouped with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, Division of the Blind, and the Department of Workforce Services.

“We are supposed to focus on getting people to work so it changed our mission and our focus. Yes, we get GEDs because that’s part of going to work,” said Olson.

The change has turned teachers into somewhat of an employment agency as Olsen and her staff meet with business and industry to help employ their clients.

“We’re starting to find a niche,” said Olson. “One of the biggest complaints from industry is people don’t have soft skills. They need to learn how to work as a team. They need to know how to show up for work. So adult ed has found a niche in that area.”

Now, Olson said, the focus is for programs to get people to work, like computer literacy but also financial literacy.

“We’re doing IET, which is integration education and training. We’re actually doing on the job training, partnering with business where they’re getting some work experiences and going to school,” said Olson. “We’re working on concurrent credit now, we have an avenue for people to come into adult ed and earn college credit now, just like high school students.”

Additionally, adult education students can earn national certifications like Microsoft Office.

“Not only can we help you do that, but it’s all free,” said Olson.

Otherwise, the tests are about $110 each, she said. And the program is for anyone, not just a high school dropout.

Additionally, SNAP, or food stamp, recipients who are able-bodied and without a reason preventing them from having a job, such as a small child to care for, are required to acquire educational training to keep their benefits longer than three months.

Adult education is an avenue to do that, Olson said.

Those referred to the program must come eight hours per week to work on something or see benefits terminated.

Still in its early days the program has seen three sign up so far said Christy McCollough, who works at the adult education center, which is located at the ATU Ozark Training Site, located Rockline Industries.

Those who do participate become eligible for SNAP funded benefits including having college paid for to become a CNA, or acquire a CDL, all while being paid a travel benefit to go to school.

After employment, the client retains services for three more months and SNAP will help purchase uniform and equipment requirements.

“This money is set up for success, to make sure you have everything you need to succeed,” said Olson. “Will people take advantage of it? This started last year and we were one of the last counties to come on board. So far about 15 percent are volunteering to come it to do that.

“People have to want to help themselves.”

For those who want the program, but might not be required to because of their circumstance, can also be placed on the program through a reverse referral, Olson said.

The disqualification period for not participating is three, barring a life change.