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San Antonio City Council approves Ready to Work job-training pilot programs

Mayor Ron Nirenberg (right) and Workforce Development Office Executive Director Michael Ramsey (right) discussing two new pilot programs for the Ready to Work initiative.
Josh Peck
Mayor Ron Nirenberg (right) and Workforce Development Office Executive Director Michael Ramsey discuss two new pilot programs for the Ready to Work initiative.

The San Antonio City Council approved the Ready to Work On the Job Training (OJT) and Incumbent Worker Training (IWT) pilot programs on Thursday.

The programs will offer selected employers city funds to train employees on the job and augment their pay for the duration of the training. They will operate under the Ready to Work initiative voters approved in 2020.

The city council vote approving the pilots was 10-0, with one council member absent.

Michael Ramsey, the executive director of the city’s Workforce Development Office, which includes Ready to Work, said the pilots would put employers “in the driver’s seat.”

Thirty-three businesses and 1,371 workers will participate in the two pilots — 23 employers and 720 workers for OJT and 21 employers and 651 workers in IWT. Several employers will participate in both programs.

OJT is for workers who are newly hired or have been hired in the last six months, and IWT is for employees who have been at the companies for six months or longer.

The pilots will cost $3.1 million, which is being taken from the pre-established San Antonio Ready to Work Fund.

District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo expressed concern that large companies, like aerospace manufacturer StandardAero and major Toyota subsidiary Toyotetsu Texas, would be receiving city tax dollars to pay for worker training.

“Some of these are billion dollar businesses, with a ‘B,’ and we’re essentially subsidizing interns,” Castillo said.

She said she referred to the workers in the programs as “interns” because the companies have no obligation to keep employees after the city-subsidized training is complete.

District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo at a city council public comment session.
Josh Peck
District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo at a city council public comment session.

Castillo also said she was concerned more small businesses weren’t involved.

Eleven of the 33 businesses selected are small businesses, and a third of the total funding will go to those businesses.

StandardAero and Toyotetsu will receive funding to train 334 of the workers in the across the two pilots — nearly a quarter of all the workers involved.

Greg Chapman, the director of technical training at StandardAero, which had revenues of $4.6 billion in 2023, spoke at Thursday’s city council meeting. He said the city’s support was critical to the company’s growth.

“We’re undergoing, right now over the next few years, the biggest business expansion in our company’s history which will roughly double the size of the workforce that’s here in San Antonio,” Chapman said. “And we wouldn’t be able to do that here in San Antonio without the support and partnership of the city and the council and the mayor and the Ready to Work program.”

The companies themselves will be in charge of training employees. Ramsey said that allows employers to train their employees for the exact skills they will need to succeed in their jobs.

District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia said she wants future versions of the programs to do more outreach.

“We can’t afford to get this wrong,” she said. “If this is a course correction, I also think that part of the course correction needs to be to go out and talk to the small businesses.”

Ramsey said the city will track employee training progress, employee pay before and after training, employee retention after training, and what credentials employees earn through the training as ways to measure the pilots’ success.

The original Ready to Work initiative, which involves the city subsidizing job training through partner institutions such as Project QUEST, has come under repeated criticism for its slow start and shortfalls.

Only 45% of the 1,207 workers who have completed job training in the program have landed quality jobs within six months. The program’s goal was 80%.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg defended the program in his State of the City address and called for patience.

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He got his start in journalism as a contributing writer at The Paisano, the independent student newspaper at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), eventually becoming a news editor. In 2020, he was a digital news intern for Texas Public Radio, which included reporting multiple stories for air and the site and designing and managing data visualizations to track COVID-19 trends across the county. After his internship ended, he began freelancing with TPR and was a member of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, where published a feature on how a family’s loss of a loved one to police violence changed them. Josh Peck is the Technology & Entrepreneurship Reporter for Texas Public Radio.