Train for Jobs SA, the City of San Antonio’s federally funded workforce development program established as part of its coronavirus recovery effort, has enlisted nearly 5,000 local residents since it was established last fall. The $75 million program aims to enroll a total of about 10,000 unemployed or underemployed residents into job training programs by this September.

Of the 4,940 residents who have completed preliminary intake into the program, more than 3,600 have been referred to a job training agency. Of those, 1,793 have enrolled in a training course, Alejandra Lopez, director of the City’s Economic Development Department, told a City Council committee on Tuesday.

The goal is for those students – many of whom worked in the struggling service or tourism sectors – to find higher-paid, skilled positions in industries in need of workers.

Lopez and partner agency leaders from Project Quest, Workforce Solutions Alamo, Restore Education, Alamo Colleges District, Chrysalis Ministries, Family Service Association, and SA Works updated the Workforce Development Committee on the program’s implementation and lessons learned so far.

Some common themes have started to emerge, and most are centered on a core truth about job training, Lopez said: “This takes time.”

It’s not as easy as placing someone into a job training program, said Mary Garr, president and CEO of Family Service. Often they need remedial education – such as reading and math courses – to ensure their success in a training course or on-the-job training opportunities.

“A number of our clients are coming in lacking a high school degree,” Garr said, noting that more than 70% of Family Service’s clients are women, many of them single mothers. “We work with partners to help our clients get to that basic level so they can then move on to adequate job training and education.”

Some assumed there would be higher demand for short-term training courses that take weeks or a couple of months to complete, but that hasn’t been the case, said David Zammiellio, executive director of Project Quest. “We’ve actually seen … stronger demand for the longer-term training. The great thing about that is the longer-term training usually [leads] to a better outcome … higher wage types [of jobs].”

These agencies have had to work closely with each other and the City to ensure that they are not creating more skilled workers than there are positions available, said Adrian Lopez, president and CEO of Workforce Solutions Alamo. “The last thing we want to do is flood the [labor] market in a particular area.”

Transportation and child care continue to be participation barriers for some residents, and that’s where the Train for Jobs’ wraparound component comes in, Alejandra Lopez said. The program provides students with a stipend of up to $450 per week while receiving training.

Train for Jobs establishes the foundation for Ready to Work SA, a five-year, voter-approved $154 million program funded by a portion of local sales tax. Ready to Work will focus efforts on enrolling low-income, displaced workers with a high school diploma or some college credit in job training programs or college degree programs.

Unlike the automatic stipend provided in Train for SA, Ready to Work will help students with emergency expenses on a case-by-case basis. Each year, an estimated $10 million will be set aside for services such as child care and counseling as well as $2.5 million for emergency stipends for rent, car repairs, or utility bills.

Though Ready to Work’s structure has not been finalized, enrollment is slated to start this September, with training getting underway next year.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org