San Antonio’s New Vocational Training Program Under Watch

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As San Antonio’s vocational training program lags and officials try to work out details of its next phase, key supporters fear the initiative may be in trouble.

COPS / Metro, a people’s rights group, aggressively lobbied city leaders to create an emergency program to help some of the thousands of people made redundant amid the pandemic to acquire the skills they needed to land better paying jobs.

Group leaders then backed Mayor Ron Nirenberg when he called on voters in November to use sales tax money to create an expanded agenda.

But months after the idea proved successful at the polls, COPS / Metro members grew increasingly disappointed with how the city’s job training efforts have worked. They believe city officials have largely ignored their concerns. Group leaders are disappointed by the low number of participants who have obtained training certificates and landed jobs thanks to the emergency program – dubbed Train for Jobs SA.

Nine months after the start of the $ 75 million initiative, 214 people have been placed in employment.

On ExpressNews.com: “Slower than we expected”: San Antonio’s employment program still struggling to gain momentum

And COPS / Metro executives fear the city has not done enough to prepare for the next stage of its training efforts – Ready to Work, the $ 200 million program backed by a sales tax that will also help. residents to enroll in college programs. Already, the deployment of the program has been postponed by one month from September to October.

City officials who are developing Ready to Work have done so at a breakneck pace, support COPS / Metro leaders, and have focused too much on determining bureaucratic procedures rather than on the jobs participants will be trained for – points that officials dispute.

“They just did it, if you will, by the seat of their pants,” said Sister Pearl Ceaser, former director of Project Quest, the COPS / Metro vocational training program founded more than 25 years ago.

When Train for Jobs started last September, officials said the program would help 10,000 people in one way or another, even if they didn’t complete their training and didn’t get jobs. But the program didn’t even reach that number – around 6,000 people qualified for the training and completed the program’s “admission” process.

For their part, COPS / Metro executives said they initially expected a low number of registrations and placements, in part because it is difficult to roll out a professional training program. Program participants have largely opted for training programs that take longer but will theoretically lead to even more remunerative work.

But the city risks seeing similar numbers from Ready to Work if it doesn’t bring in more outside workforce development experts to weigh and identify the jobs that will be there when participants graduate. , support the leaders of COPS / Metro.

“They are going to overhaul the same flawed program on a larger scale and will not get any better results than what they are now getting,” said Sonia Rodriguez, a COPS / Metro executive who worked on the Ready to Work campaign. by Nirenberg.

City officials have said they are focusing on these things. Nirenberg’s office provided a list of external experts that he and his staff consulted on the program.

“We are building an unprecedented workforce program and knew from the start that we would face challenges,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “It is a natural part of the process and we will address challenges as they arise. “

Kin Man Hui / Personal photographer

They also identified several target industries for Ready to Work, including healthcare, manufacturing and cybersecurity. In addition, they plan to publish a detailed list of potential occupations for those who complete the program. Still, the city expects a third-party agency that will manage the program to stay in touch with employers and make sure there are jobs waiting for program participants.

“We know which professions command salaries and are in demand right now,” said Deputy City Manager Alex Lopez, who oversees the two vocational training programs. “We already know that. Will it change from year to year? Perhaps.”

This is not the first time COPS / Metro has publicly expressed grievances about Ready to Work. Its members were outraged when city staff launched a proposal in December to hire 65 new city employees and create a new agency to enroll participants in vocational training and college programs and help them get on with it. make sure they don’t give up. Rodriguez called the proposed department a “bloated bureaucracy.”

Officials withdrew the proposal, choosing instead to outsource this work – as well as the training itself – to an outside organization.

This process also drew heat. After the city released a document detailing its expectations for the contract, COPS / Metro and potential contractors complained that the expectations were too high and would revert to micro-management by the city. Officials have returned to the drawing board and plan to open the tendering process on July 6.

On ExpressNews.com: As unemployment benefits expire, San Antonio mayor tries to stimulate interest in skills training program

City leaders have widely championed the performance of Train for Jobs and the way Ready to Work is taking shape. Even though they needed work, potential Train for Jobs candidates were likely frightened given the prevalence of COVID-19 early in the program, officials and supporters have argued. Employers were also slow to hire during the winter months.

But since the start of the year, interest in Train for Jobs has grown as the pandemic abates and more residents receive doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, officials said.

“We are building an unprecedented workforce program, and we knew from the start that we would face challenges,” Nirenberg said in a statement. “It is a natural part of the process and we will address challenges as they arise. “

But Nirenberg said he was with COPS / Metro regarding how long it takes the city to hire an executive director to oversee Ready to Work. The city was initially expected to hire someone by May. Months later, the position has not been filled – and it is not known when it will be. A city spokeswoman said the hiring process was “in its final selection phase.”

Even more baffling COPS / Metro leaders: The person overseeing the city’s current vocational training program is Heber Lefgren, who heads the city’s animal care services department.

Ready to Work will be rolled out in October - after city council awards the contract to run the program.  But the program will gradually intensify with a stronger push to get enrollees through the doors from January - in part to give the entrepreneur time to settle in.

Ready to Work will be rolled out in October – after city council awards the contract to run the program. But the program will gradually ramp up with a stronger push for registrants to walk through the doors starting in January – in part to give the entrepreneur time to settle in. “We have learned that we need to have a smooth launch,” Deputy Managing Director Alex Lopez said. “It won’t be about flipping a switch.

Kin Man Hui / Personal photographer

“Don’t we have people who know a bit more about workforce development who could take on leadership positions? Rodriguez told the editorial board of Express-News.

City staff defended the decision to put Lefgren in place of temporarily overseeing the day-to-day operations of Train for Jobs.

Lefgren “has been instrumental in many innovations and improvements” in animal care services, city manager Erik Walsh said in a statement. His past work in the city’s budget and innovation offices has given Lefgren “a solid foundation for creative and effective system design and implementation,” said Walsh.

Ready to Work will be rolled out in October – after city council awards the contract to run the program. But the program will gradually ramp up with a stronger push for registrants to walk through the doors starting in January – in part to give the entrepreneur time to settle in.

“We have learned that we have to do a soft launch,” Lopez said during a public form Thursday on the program. “It won’t be about flipping a switch.

Even after the city hires the contractor, authorities expect there will be issues to be addressed. For Rodriguez, it’s time to sort out these issues before this organization gets hired.

“There is a real lack of logic in all of this and a streak that is still missing,” said Rodriguez.

Despite their reluctance, COPS / Metro executives do not plan to withdraw from the process.

“It’s too important,” Rodriguez said. “This one is too big to fail.”

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