Keith Simons, a sales-and-management veteran of companies such as PepsiCo, Best Buy and Blue Rhino, is director of personal empowerment training at Twin Cities Rise, a North Side nonprofit business that helps mostly minority men with training and attitudinal improvement in order to improve careers and lives. TCR, founded in 1995 by former business executive Steve Rothschild, has trained 4,000 people. The average TCR student goes from making $5,000 to a salary of $27,000. Simons teaches students and trainers, including in state prisons and in businesses.

Q: What is Twin Cities Rise, and why is it important?

A: Twin Cities Rise is an anti-poverty job training program. Our mission is transforming lives through meaningful employment. Our vision is a community of empowered individuals, especially men of color, who achieve long-term job success to support their families. To achieve this … TCR has developed an innovative, long-term job training and placement program designed for those facing multiple barriers to achieving long-term self-sufficiency. Many have had trauma in their family and lives, particularly men in prison.

Q: What is personal empowerment training?

A: Personal empowerment is a personal skills training program that helps individuals make the internal changes necessary to transform their lives and their communities. It develops the skills needed for long-term success, including self-awareness, emotional regulation, self-esteem, empathy and relationship skills.

Q: Why is it important to the mission of TCR?

A: Steve Rothschild, our founder and board chair, discovered early on that technical skills were not enough to help our program participants keep the living wage jobs that they had secured. Feedback from the employers of our graduates was that many lacked the personal skills necessary to keep those jobs. Steve found a clinical psychologist to help him create the personal empowerment curriculum. Since implementing personal empowerment training, TCR’s program participants have been able to achieve long-term success measures, such as income increases … an 82 percent job retention rate after 12 months and highly reduced [prison] recidivism rate. Further, TCR’s 15-year return on investment is more than $7 received in benefits for every $1 invested by the state.

Q: Why does this work for prisoners, working poor and corporate executives?

A: It’s based on emotional intelligence and cognitive restructuring. Emotional intelligence, knowing yourself and building better relationships is key to everyone having more success and a better life. The same skills that we teach in our empowerment institute are just as valuable to an executive as they are to a truck driver. In business, this is often called leadership development.

Q: How important is willingness of the trainee to make positive changes?

A: Cognitive restructuring and the development of emotional competencies can dramatically help people who want to change their lives, no matter their life circumstances, their workplace, communities and the world. It works from the inside out. The changes are based on what each individual wants. One’s motivation is important to changing self to achieve positive outcomes.

Q: Please give me a name of a few of your business champions who support the work and hire TCR graduates.

A: Bill George, the author, Harvard professor and former CEO of Medtronic; Tim Murnane, the Opus CEO; Steve Shank, the founder of Capella University; and Carleen Rhodes, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners’ former president.

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: Our empowerment institute is a separate program that TCR began 13 years ago that markets empowerment training. This is a result of our hiring partners’ request to train their employees to develop similar [positive] attitudes to that of our graduates. We have helped nonprofits, colleges, businesses and governments build their capacity to deliver empowerment training. Empowerment training will transform the culture of an organization. Leadership at organizations such as the Northside Achievement Zone and Ally People Solutions will testify to this.

Sometimes we hear “empowerment training is the silver bullet.” No, you have to build an empowered culture. We train trainers. Everybody has to take empowerment training. And you keep up the coaching. If you don’t do that, you don’t sustain the results.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144