Labor secretary: SA workforce program ‘should be a model for the rest of the country’

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visited St. Philip’s College and participated in a round table discussion of the Ready to Work program

San Antonio – Though San Antonio’s “Ready to Work” program has put only a handful of people into classrooms and workforce training programs so far, a top Biden administration official praised it effusively during a visit to the Alamo City on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh toured technical manufacturing and aerospace training sites at Alamo Colleges District - St. Philip’s College and participated in a round table discussion with some of the city’s Ready to Work partners, including businesses and an early participant.

“The mayor talked to me about this program, I think a couple of years ago when we started talking about it, and this program, there’s no question, should be a model for the rest of the country - not ‘could’ be,” Walsh told reporters after the round table discussion.

The Ready to Work program, which helps bankroll low-income San Antonio residents’ tuition for job training and degree programs, was approved by voters in November 2020 when they agreed to use city sales tax dollars to fund it.

Enrollment opened on May 16, and city officials said they want to enroll more than 28,000 people over the next five years and ultimately get more than 15,600 of them placed in well-paying jobs in in-demand fields once they finish.

There has been a flood of applicants - 5,439 so far - but there’s less movement further down the pipeline.

Only 207 people have completed an education and career plan, and just 67 people are currently enrolled in courses or classes. So far, six people have completed their training, though a program spokeswoman said most of those were graduates of a commercial driver’s license program, which only takes a few weeks.

Mike Ramsey, the executive director of the city’s workforce development program, said the delays are partly due to partner organizations still building their capacity to handle all cases. Ramsey said another factor is that participants are taking the time to figure out which educational path to pursue.

He estimated that there “may be less than 500″ of the applicants who hadn’t received an initial call back to start the process.

Though Ramsey said none of the partner organizations charged with running the program are in danger of not meeting their annual goals, he also acknowledged he didn’t think the process was moving at an acceptable rate.

“We’ve got to pick up the pace,” Ramsey said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg was the driving force behind getting the program in front of voters.

“We are so far working through this in the right way, and I believe that the community believes in the importance of it and how we are going to work together for it to be successful,” Nirenberg said.

Ready to Work received a $3 million grant from the Department of Labor in July, meant for apprenticeship training programs. Walsh said he’d like to see more flexibility with federal funding to support programs like it.

“We need to really be more intentional about investing in workforce development. And we need to do it with cities, quite honestly, because cities know how to get it done. And a program like Ready to Work should be replicated around the country,” Walsh said.

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About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.