A voter-approved education and workforce program that will start serving San Antonio residents this fall could be a game-changer for people who have lost jobs or educational opportunities during the pandemic, panelists said Wednesday during the San Antonio Regional Education Forum.

The SA: Ready to Work program will provide tuition assistance, wraparound services, and emergency financial assistance to San Antonians impacted by the pandemic, building upon the city’s COVID-19 Recovery and Resiliency Plan.

City and higher education leaders discussed this soon-to-launch city and higher education collaborative during the forum. The four-year initiative aims to provide the education and training needed to elevate workers into higher skill and wage jobs in health care, advanced manufacturing, and cybersecurity.

Currently, the tax-funded program is looking for partners to help train workers and place them in jobs, Assistant City Manager Alejandra Lopez said.

Simultaneously, SA Works, a workforce development program, is training high school students through an internship program, while also helping adults who have lost jobs to enhance their current job skills or learn new skills that will lead them to new careers, said Romanita Matta-Barrera, SA Works executive director.

The Ready to Work program is partnering with SA Works to get residents into those training opportunities that will expose them to new fields and the skills employers desire.

But the challenges for San Antonio workers go beyond the employment and educational disruptions caused by the pandemic. Alamo Colleges District Chancellor Mike Flores said the community college district works with local universities instead of competing with them to help every student succeed.

“We compete with poverty,” he said. “Poverty and specifically intergenerational poverty is one of the main challenges that we confront, and really being able to produce and have local talent is the other challenge that’s intertwined with that.”

Alamo Colleges created the Alamo Promise last-dollar tuition assistance program to bridge those intergenerational poverty gaps, Flores said. The program provides students with the tuition they need after students have exhausted other kinds of assistance.

The pandemic also has forced the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M University-San Antonio to rethink degree programs and wraparound services they provide students. To hear more about these partnerships and initiatives, watch the video above.

In addition to Lopez, Flores and Matta-Berrera, panelists included Lynn Barnes, Senior Vice Provost of Strategic Enrollment at the University of Texas at San Antonio and Cynthia Teniente-Matson, Texas A&M University-San Antonio president.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.