Days before the San Antonio City council is set to hear its first contract recommendations for the city’s upcoming workforce development program, city officials and business executives gathered at City Hall on Monday morning to tout the program’s promised benefits.

The $200 million SA Ready to Work program aims to enroll 40,000 San Antonio residents in wrap-around services to prepare them for high-paying jobs in high-demand fields.

“This is the mark of a very important time in San Antonio,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, “where we lift all boats and we begin to see the rise of our local workforce.”

City staff will make a presentation to City Council on Wednesday, and council members could vote to launch the program as early as next week.

Standing behind the mayor were local corporate executives, chambers of commerce presidents, small business leaders and other city officials. Those who spoke after the mayor called the program “unprecedented.”

“There is no other city in the country that is taking that amount of money and investing in human capital, workforce development and economic development,” said City Manager Erik Walsh, referring to the program’s funding through a 1/8 cent sales and use tax to be collected through December 2025.

Walsh emphasized the program as working hand-in-glove with businesses to guide the program’s development, something he said could help it succeed where its pandemic-related predecessor, Train for Jobs SA, fell short.

“As long as we stay tied to employer needs, this program will be a success,” he said, noting that Train for Jobs’ focus on short-term training overestimated the demand for that kind of labor.

Train for Jobs SA was launched in September 2020 as a one-year program to provide short-term job training to residents impacted by the pandemic. During its inception city officials said the program would help 10,000 residents. While slightly more than 5,000 have entered training, only 1,140 have found new jobs as a result.

By contrast, SA Ready to Work aims to provide long-term training, bachelor’s or associate’s degrees for 40,000 residents over four years.

More than 70 companies have already pledged to be a part of SA Ready to Work.

The president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Kevin Voelkel, said the program would help fill skilled labor gaps in manufacturing. For manufacturers, “San Antonio is a hidden gem,” he said, pointing to the city’s anticipated population growth, its college students, the Alamo Promise program and now SA Ready to Work.

Kevin Voelkel, president of Toyota Manufacturing of Texas speaks during the press conference detailing the $200 million workforce development program, SA: Ready to Work on Monday.
Kevin Voelkel, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas said the $200 million workforce development program, SA Ready to Work, would help local manufacturers fill skilled positions. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Sarah Shakil, CEO of towing company CAARS Inc., said the city’s Small Business Advisory Council will work hand-in-hand with the program’s advisory board. “We know this program will provide with us with access to skilled employees and will tailor courses to meet employer demands.”

The president of the city’s economic development group Greater:SATX, formerly known as the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, said SA Ready to Work will allow “employers to help drive economic mobility while also meeting their specific hiring needs.”

This article has been updated to correct that City of San Antonio staff will present details of the Ready to Work program to council members on Wednesday.

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Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham covered business and technology for the San Antonio Report.