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San Antonio’s 'Ready to Work' prepares training with the backing of employers

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Joey Palacios / TPR
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San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg is joined by several dozen members of the business community as it prepares to launch the $200 million voter approved "SA: Ready to Work" job training program.

The City of San Antonio’s sales-tax funded job training program “SA: Ready to Work” (RTW) will begin taking job applications in the summer, and several dozen local and national businesses have pledged to work with the city in its development.

San Antonio voters approved RTW in November 2020 with more than 70% voting in favor of using a ⅛ cent sales tax to fund it as a way of getting people back to work in a pandemic-strained job market. While it’s getting the support of heavy-hitting businesses in San Antonio, some of the projected enrollment numbers are falling shorter than anticipated when voters were casting ballots.

A group of employers in San Antonio joined the mayor and city leaders on the steps of City Hall Monday; a local show of support for nearly 70 companies who have taken a pledge to help the program grow, higher program graduates, provide internships or serve on committees overseeing it.

"I think we have the right level of partnership and we also have the resources that have been provided by the confidence of the public to make this program a success,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

Some of the major companies who have signed to back it include Toyota, Bank of America, Methodist Healthcare and Boeing.

RTW follows in the footsteps of its similar predecessor: Train for Jobs SA. Train for Jobs ended its program at the end of 2021 and was funded to the tune of about $70 million; most of that money came from the federal government’s CARES Act in 2020.

Train for Jobs did not have the outcome city leaders were hoping for. It had expected about 10,000 to receive training. At the end, Train for Jobs did receive 17,000 inquiries and found 10,300 people to be eligible but about half of that enrolled in training.

As of Jan. 31, 2022, a total of 5,051 people have been enrolled under the new program, and of those 1,100 people had been placed in jobs and an additional 1,100 program graduates are searching for jobs. Under data provided by the city, the participants enrolled in training for fields including IT, manufacturing, medical services, human resources, and phlebotomy. Most who have completed and found jobs are making a median wage of about $15 per hour.

San Antono City Manager Erik Walsh said the difference between RTW and Train for Jobs SA is the employer commitment to its development.

“That pipeline has got to be connected to employers ... the needs of employers — big, small, regardless of industry — that’s going to drive the intake, that drives the certifications, the education, because at the end of that pipeline it's connected to an employer and so we think that's the big difference,” he said.

When RTW was being promoted to voters as “Proposition B” on the November 2020 ballot, the city expected about 40,000 people to be trained in in-demand or high-skilled jobs by the program's completion. However, city officials said on Monday that they expect about 28,000 people to complete the training.

“A lot of that is due to the budget for the program, that's really what drives that number,” said Mike Ramsey, executive director of the City of San Antonio's Workforce Development Office. "That’s how many participants can participate so you have to have a certain amount of dollars invested for case management, for tuition dollars, for emergency funding, as participants circulate through."

RTW was expecting to take applications by the beginning of this year but that’s been moved back until June. Assistant City Manager Alex Lopez said the city wanted to push back the application process to gather feedback from companies.

“Because this is a big project, it’s a big undertaking and we wanted to make sure that the partners we recommend are up for that type of collaboration, to scale at the level that we're going to need to scale to execute,” she said.

The sales tax that’s funding RTW is expected to generate about $200 million over the life of the program through the end of 2025. That’s a higher projection than when voters approved it which was about $154 million at the time. Lopez said that was due to potentially increased tax collection projections over the lifetime of the program.

Later this week, the San Antonio City Council will hear of progress so far as well as potential outside agencies that will administer RTW on behalf of the city.

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