San Antonio City Council members heard staff recommendations and implementation details for the city’s long-planned workforce development program in a briefing Wednesday.

SA Ready to Work is a $183 million program that aims to enroll 40,000 San Antonio residents in training, education and wraparound services to prepare them for high-paying jobs in high-demand fields. San Antonio voters overwhelmingly approved a broad outline of the program and a sales tax to fund it in November 2020, with around 77% of voters approving.

“No other city is doing something like to this scale,” said City Manager Erik Walsh, who emphasized the program’s design being responsive to employer needs.

The executive director of the city’s newly created Workforce Development Office, Michael Ramsey, briefed City Council members on his staff’s recommendations for implementation of the program, which is expected to go to a vote Feb. 17, though the agenda has not been set yet.

Selected as contractors to handle applicants and case management for the program are Workforce Solutions Alamo, Project Quest, the Alamo Colleges, Restore Education. The city will require them to maintain a job-placement rate of at least 80% for applicants that complete the training program.

No contractor is being recommended yet to evaluate the program’s success metrics, as a request for proposals garnered no applicants that met the requirements for experience, Ramsey said. He added they are “on track to securing someone to provide these services very soon.”

Staffers are also recommending advertising firm Creative Noggin be contracted to do outreach and publicity for the program — components Ramsey said were lacking from the job-training program that preceded it, Train for Jobs SA, which was designed to train people who lost jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ramsey said his office had learned much from Train for Jobs SA, which was launched in the early months of the pandemic to provide short-term job training and was criticized for being slow to deliver on its goals.

The long-term training the new program will provide is much more aligned with the needs of employers, Ramsey said. Employers are keeping in active communication with the office about what kinds of jobs they need and how many.

Targeted industries are:

  • health care
  • information technology and cybersecurity
  • construction, architecture and utilities
  • education
  • aerospace and manufacturing
  • oil and gas, warehousing and transportation, and finance

For applicants to the program, the city is aiming to get them into jobs that pay at least $15 an hour and provide benefits, as specified in a pledge that more than 70 employers have signed to participate in the program. The pledge is not legally binding.

Among the employers that have signed the pledge are H-E-B, Frost Bank, Holt Cat, Navistar and Methodist Healthcare System.

Ramsey said the program is expected to begin in April, when a formal application process will become available. Before then, city residents interested in the program can pre-register by calling 3-1-1.

Council members were largely optimistic about the program’s prospects. Among some of the comments and questions they fielded, Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) wanted to know more about how the program would help formerly incarcerated residents get good jobs. Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said he wanted to push for hospitality employers — like hotels and restaurants — to be included.

The program’s funding — a one-eighth-cent sales and use tax collected through December 2025 — is estimated at around $200 million.

This article has been updated to reflect that although the value of the SA Ready to Work contracts is $183 million, funding for the program is approximately $200 million.

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Waylon Cunningham

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