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US Labor Secretary visits San Antonio to see how 'Ready to Work' will prepare new grads for jobs

Secretary Walsh toured the facilities of St. Phillip's College Monday alongside organizers of Ready to Work
Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh toured the facilities of St. Phillip's College Monday alongside organizers of Ready to Work.

Marty Walsh, President Biden’s Secretary for the U.S. Department of Labor, saw the city of San Antonio’s “Ready to Work'' in action Monday.

The $229 million sales tax funded program is one of the first of its kind for the U.S. and Walsh said he’d like to see it replicated in other cities. “Ready to Work '' uses a 1/8th of a cent sales tax to fund job training and new careers for people who have little to no experience in a field that’s new to them. The program kicked off just before this summer and, so far, has about 5,000 applicants going through the process.

Walsh joined program leaders, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) for a tour of St. Philip’s College’s southwest campus this week. Walsh said Ready to Work should be a model for the rest of the country.

“We need to be really more intentional about investing in workforce development and we need to do it with cities, quite honestly, because cities know how to get it done and a program should be replicated around the country,” Walsh said.

Ready to Work uses the participation of more than just the city’s Workforce Development Department — 75 local businesses have pledged to support Ready to Work. The training is being facilitated by the Alamo College District, Project Quest and other entities to create the pipeline of education to job placement.

Ready to Work has faced some criticism and downscaled returns from its initial projections. However, city leaders remained hopeful the program would be a success and change lives for people across San Antonio. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said it’s designed to change the trajectory of families who want better opportunities.

“What I see happening here is a community coming together to support the program, to make sure that it’s successful,” Nirenberg said. “Failure is not an option because what we’re talking about has real people here. The reason why voters came out is because we believe in each other and we want better for our community.”

Its predecessor, Train for Jobs SA, was launched as an answer to job losses by helping people train for new careers during the pandemic. It fell short of some of its goals. The program assisted some 1,600 who have landed jobs already with another 1,400 who are in job searches right now according to the city’s Train for Jobs website.

The city estimates that Ready to Work will train 40,000 people for high skilled jobs — approximately 28,000 would graduate with occupational certificates or job-ready requirements like commercial driver’s licenses.

As of this month, 5,439 people have applied to the program. Certain requirements have to be met with the most simple being a resident of San Antonio and being at least 18 years old.

Of those who have applied, 207 have been accepted and are tailoring their career plans. There are 67 people enrolled in classes and six have completed their training. Four of those six graduates have received CDLs and are ready to start careers.

Last month, Ready to Work received a grant from the Department of Labor totaling nearly $3 million from its Apprenticeship Building America program which distributed $121 million nationwide.

Congressman Castro said it’s endorsements like that which means the federal government is watching how Ready to Work operates.

“It’s clear to the federal government that San Antonio is serious about this kind of workforce development and I think that helps us as we go forward in competing for federal money,” Castro said.

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Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules