San Antonio Chamber CEO and President Richard Perez speaks at the Chamber's luncheon. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
San Antonio Chamber CEO and President Richard Perez speaks at the Chamber's luncheon. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Officials with the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce gathered with city leaders Monday to announce the launch of San Antonio Works, a coalition of local business leaders aiming to bolster the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-driven (STEM) workforce.

The goal is to place 20,000 individuals into quality, applied learning internships with local employers by 2020, or about 4,000 students and teachers per year. The City estimates that a mere 1,000 students are served yearly though existing programs.

“(San Antonio Works) is a two-fold accomplishment,” said Chamber President and CEO Richard Perez in a news release. “Students receive the training they need to start a career, and employers fill their talent pipeline with the workforce skills they need.”

Students will have the chance to cultivate critical essential skills such as punctuality, professionalism, teamwork, collaboration, conflict management, flexibility and communication.

The chamber is adding two full-time staff members, funded by the San Antonio-based grocery chain H-E-B, dedicated to the growth and development of the SA Works initiative.

“In order to identify students and teachers, the SA Works team at the chamber will work with existing programs at local schools – both in kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education – as well as identify gaps where needed,” said Priscilla Camacho, vice president of education and workforce development at the chamber.

Camacho explained the chamber has noted a rising need for more students to be placed on the city’s Eastside. The United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County will help San Antonio Works to identify students and teachers in the EastPoint/Promise Neighborhood footprint who can be placed in these types of opportunities. In turn, San Antonio Works will help identify employers in the EastPoint/Promise Neighborhood footprint that can host these students and teachers.

Founding partners of this coalition include the City of San Antonio, Bexar County, Chase Bank, CPS Energy, H-E-B, Holt Cat, Lockheed Martin, Mood: Texas, Rackspace, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas and Zachry Group. Critical areas of focus include information technology, financial services, health and biomedical careers, advanced manufacturing, and construction.

One of the major goals of San Antonio’s SA2020 vision is that, within five years, the city will be recognized as a business leader in these 21st century industries.

According to Camacho, the chamber has no estimates of what hosting an SA Works intern costs internally for a company, but currently it will cost employers nothing to partner with San Antonio Works. Joeris General Contractors joined as a partner on Monday.

“(Partners) receive the staff resources that we will provide in assisting them find students and teachers who can benefit from learning about their company and trade,” said Camacho.

Local company Holt Cat, for example, allows teachers to partake in its weeklong employee training programs. Once completed, the teachers may take the curriculum taught to them and use that within their classrooms, Camacho said. On a yearly basis Holt Cat has 35 to 45 participating teachers.

Rackspace currently has 50 to 60 college interns who work annually within its company, and 14 to 20 students participating in a two-year program.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, through the Alamo Academies program, sponsors 10 paid interns over the summer, between the students’ junior and senior years of high school.

“Toyota also provides through its Advanced Manufacturing Technician program apprentice-style opportunities wherein the students work for three days and attend school at one of the Alamo Colleges for two, allowing them to receive on-the-job training while obtaining the credentials needed to obtain permanent employment within Toyota,” Camacho said.

Camacho said the chamber and San Antonio Works will do what it can to expand and create programs for any identified career field gaps around the city. Developing collaborative efforts with existing job placement groups and non-traditional academic programs will be crucial, according to Camacho. She cited local programs such as Codeup, a professional school for computer programming, Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy, and Project Quest as critical in this regard.

“Additionally, we see great potential in working with other community based organizations like the San Antonio Education Partnership, P-16 Plus of Bexar County and the Boys and Girls Club San Antonio as they currently have great programming working with students and families and we want to expand upon those efforts and assist in having more businesses connected to them in the future,” she said.

Camacho added that P-16 Plus currently serves as the hub for data the coalition will need to ensure accountability for itself and the partners it will work with on the education and workforce sides. 

In addition to working with schools, the coalition and the chamber will work with local nonprofit organizations to enhance and expand existing programs that offer student internships, apprenticeships, mentorships and teacher and counselor externships.

“One that we are working to partner with is United Way and their current work in the Eastside of San Antonio,” Camacho said. “They have identified workforce development as a critical area of need for students and families in that particular part of town and have set aside funding to help fund student internships for students in the area with businesses also in the Eastside footprint.”

Mayor Ivy Taylor said San Antonio Works could help San Antonians to diversify their skills an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

“Because the world economy is more competitive than ever, San Antonio needs a well-trained workforce to maintain our strong economic growth,” she said. “San Antonio Works provides a platform for us to work together as one San Antonio – school districts, civic organizations and businesses – to create a pathway to 21st century jobs for today’s students. At my request, the City of San Antonio is proudly participating as a founding employer partner.”

*Featured/top image: (File photo) San Antonio Chamber CEO and President Richard Perez speaks at the Chamber’s luncheon. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.