Councilman says city needs to change ‘Ready to Work’ job training program

With only 398 people placed in jobs so far, CM Manny Pelaez says city should shift focus to business grants

SAN ANTONIO – At least one San Antonio councilman thinks it’s time to shift gears on the city’s highly touted workforce training program, which he believes is falling short of its goals.

The $200 million, sales tax-funded “San Antonio Ready To Work” program was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic, though it didn’t open up enrollment until May 2022. It had lofty ambitions of providing free job training through certification and degree programs for tens of thousands of San Antonians and placing them in “high-quality” jobs in high-demand fields.

However, expectations for the program have been adjusted over time. And as of mid-December, roughly a year-and-a-half into the Ready To Work program, just 398 people of the 808 who have completed their training had been placed into “quality jobs,” according to a city tracking dashboard.

Though the 92% retention rate on the dashboard also indicates most of the roughly 5,482 people who have enrolled in a program are still making their way through it rather than having dropped out, District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez thinks the results are disappointing enough to shift gears.

“What we went out and told the public two years ago was that this was going to be a big, big, bold, aggressive, impactful program. And, you know, two years later, not much impact, right?” said Pelaez, who is considering a run for mayor.

“So I understand that there’s a pipeline, and people have to make it through that pipeline in order to get their jobs. But in the meantime, you would think that we would have landed more than 398 jobs for a program that was so hyped.”

Pelaez, who heads up the city council’s Economic and Workforce Development Committee, thinks that instead of sending participants through separate training programs, the city should focus on providing grants directly to businesses to train prospective employees in-house.

“Because, at the end of the day, my number one priority is getting people to work, not getting people to the work, to the jobs they wish they had. All jobs are good jobs, and we just need to put people in positions where they can thrive. Right? And we’ve got lots of people out there who are still way too vulnerable,” he said.

He also believes there needs to be more assistance for child care included in the program funding. Nearly two-thirds of Ready To Work participants are women, and the program’s limit for “emergency funding,” which could help cover child care costs, is $1,500.

KSAT made several requests to interview Workforce Development Executive Director Mike Ramsey to respond to Pelaez’s comments. However, a Ready To Work spokesman, Ryan Loyd, said Ramsey was unavailable.

Loyd told KSAT in an email on Monday, “The intent of RTW has always been to help employers and businesses become a critical part of the training process for their own employees. The plan originally presented to City Council prioritized getting RTW off the ground and then ramping up work-based learning opportunities through our city’s employers to support them in efforts to directly up-skill and re-skill workers.”

The city plans to announce the winners of two grant programs for that purpose later this month: the Incumbent Worker Training Program (IWT) and the On-the-Job Training Program (OJT).

The $100,000 grants in the IWT program are meant to cover an employer’s cost to retrain older, full-time employees to ensure retention. The $150,000 grants in the OJT program are for the cost of training and lost production while training newer employees on new skills.

Loyd said the city anticipates providing grants “to nearly two dozen employers” and estimated the grants could cover the costs of training for possibly “up to 10″ people per employer. By those estimates, the grants would cover skills training for about 240 people on the high end.

The city also uses Ready To Work funds to power a “Pay It Forward” internship program at certain larger employers like USAA, the City of San Antonio, and CPS Energy. Under that program, the city subsidizes a six-week internship. If the employee hires them at the end of the internship, it pays the money back into a pot to subsidize other internships.

Loyd did not immediately have an estimate for how many people had participated in the Pay It Forward program.

He also later texted a statement from Ramsey, stating, “The City agrees that we need to work directly with employers to provide training and dedicate additional funding to help participants overcome childcare barriers.”

The expectations for Ready To Work have shifted over time. Estimates ahead of the election focused on 10,000 people getting training every year of the four-year program, for a total of “up to 40,000″ people served.

But after voters had approved the plan, the city presented a different picture:

  • 39,000 people interviewed
  • 28,000 enrolled in approved training
  • 15,600 placed in quality jobs

In April 2023, the program was falling short of early targets, though supporters maintained it would still reach its objectives — just later than expected. The city will collect the 1/8 cent sales tax that funds the program through the end of 2025, though the actual education and training programs could last beyond that.

About the Author

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

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