After seeing increased interest from San Antonio residents and placing several hundred people in jobs, city staff has decided to extend a job training program past its original end date.

Train for Jobs SA, a $65 million program that has failed to meet most of its original enrollment goals, was previously scheduled to run through the end of September. As 1,000 more people have joined the program since the beginning of June, it will remain open through December, said Michael Ramsey, the new executive director of the Workforce Development Office.

Train for Jobs is a one-year program that was intended to form the foundation for a larger-scale workforce training program called SA Ready to Work. Voters approved using a portion of local sales tax to fund Ready to Work in November 2020; the $154 million program aims to enroll low-income, displaced workers with a high school diploma or some college education in job training or college degree programs.

Extending Train for Jobs also will allow the city to prepare to launch the four-year SA Ready to Work program, Ramsey told city council members at an Economic and Workforce Development Committee meeting on Tuesday.

“We don’t want there to be a gap where citizens who are looking for training for their next career path, they don’t have an opportunity to continue to sign up,” he said. “So we believe that this transition will be very helpful in ensuring that the community always has access to the services that are going to meet their needs.”

So far, 6,325 people have joined the Trains for Jobs program since October 2020, falling short of the program’s original 10,000-trainee goal. There are another 1,761 people who are still in the intake pipeline for the program, said Christina Reck-Guerra, the interim assistant director of workforce development. The city now hopes to completely train 5,973 people through the Train for Jobs program.

“We realized that we had a lot more participants interested in long-term training versus short-term training,” Assistant City Manager Alex Lopez said. “And from an income perspective, that’s actually a good thing because their opportunity for wage growth will increase with the longer training that they received. But that impacted how many people we could serve based on the funding that we have because longer-term training is more expensive.”

Reck-Guerra also told council members Tuesday that the program has helped 434 people, or 33% of the program’s graduates, find jobs. Just under 1,000 have completed their training, with 584 looking for work from that pool. Just over 2,000 people are currently enrolled in some sort of training within the program — high school equivalency, short-term training, long-term training, or on-the-job training.

Not all of the people who have joined the program have stuck with it; just over 1,500 people left the program soon after enrolling. The retention rate for participants after training has begun is much better, Reck-Guerra said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the individuals who start training, complete training,” she said.

Of the 434 people who have been placed in jobs after finishing their training, the highest number — 109 — went into the medical field. The rest were placed in business, information technology, manufacturing, trades, and other industries. One of the employers that took on a large number of graduates from the program was Methodist Healthcare, Lopez said.

Councilman John Courage (D9) noted that the local job market’s immediate openings were more centered around the hospitality industry and that businesses in that industry are “crying out” for more employees.

“What we were looking for was an immediate relief for people who were out of work, as well as trying to upgrade their skills,” Courage said. “But our next project [SA Ready to Work] is really based on upgrading people’s skills over the long term. So are we also helping people prepare to get into the hospitality industry where there are immediate needs? How are we addressing that?”

Lopez said some of the Train for Jobs participants have taken jobs within the hospitality industry, but the city still hopes to equip them for career growth in any field.

“They may have not had the skills previously to be able to move up a ladder or increase their wages,” she said. “We want to make sure that if they’re going to re-enter in that field, that they do have those skills or certifications to help them continue to grow professionally and from a wage perspective.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to accurately reflect the Train for Jobs SA program budget.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.