In the fall of 2020, Workforce Solutions Capital Area with the financial support of Travis County and the City of Austin, launched the RE:WorkNOW program, a rapid retraining and reskilling initiative for Travis County’s unemployed and underemployed. The program sought to provide safe, short-term, no-cost training to local residents economically impacted by COVID-19. A training provider partner brought on early in this effort was Tech Talent South. Through RE:WorkNOW’s partnership with Tech Talent South, eligible residents could enroll in the RE:WorkNOW program and access ten weeks of training in full-stack Java software development as well as job placement assistance upon completion.
Additional services funded through RE:WorkNOW included supportive services such as childcare, housing, transportation assistance, and an education stipend. Almost a year later, the RE:WorkNOW is still going strong, and many Travis County residents facing unemployment this time last year now have high-quality good-paying jobs. Here’s how Tech Talent South partnered with Workforce Solutions Capital Area to lift up residents of Travis County with high-quality job training in the ever-growing tech industry.
In March 2020, the sudden onset of the pandemic in the United States created a difficult job market for many Americans. Many workers found themselves suddenly unemployed and with no future job prospects. Through an unprecedented level of government, support did help many stay financially stable during this tumultuous time. Many people were still concerned about the pandemic’s long-term effects on their employment and career trajectory.
In Austin specifically, a high local cost of living prohibits folks from attaining economic mobility and earning an education that could lead to higher-paying jobs. In the spring and summer of 2020, the Austin city government was concerned with not only the short-term effects of significant pandemic-related employment but also with the ongoing crisis of unemployment, wage stagnation, and a lack of skilled tech talent.
In addition to addressing concerns related to pandemic unemployment, officials in Austin also aimed to address the lack of accessible, affordable training in technology. Locals are interested in learning tech skills, especially because the tech industry is so significant in the Austin area. Still, that kind of training isn’t always accessible or financially possible for residents. Skilled tech workers are in high demand, both in Austin and in many other cities across the United States. Local leaders wanted to give those affected by the pandemic the chance to access quality tech education to improve their employment opportunities.
Workforce Solutions Capital Area, the workforce development board for the City of Austin/Travis County area, partners with various non-profit and private institutions to offer job training and job placement assistance to local residents in need. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the board was hard at work helping Austin and Travis County residents economically impacted by the pandemic. They needed a network of training partners capable of hitting the ground running to provide virtual or hybrid, industry-aligned classes that would result in the potential for good-paying jobs.
Tech Talent South was uniquely positioned to address all of these issues simultaneously. With their robust network of employment partners and years of experience delivering high-quality, virtual tech training, their proposal was a perfect fit for Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s priorities. “We were thrilled to receive their proposal. They were one of the few companies who reached out to us who were able to deliver virtual training in full-stack development over just ten weeks,” said Robin Spilman, RE:WorkNOW Project Coordinator with Workforce Solutions Capital Area “What stood out to us about Tech Talent South was that they had been offering virtual classes for some time before the beginning of the pandemic. Their years of experience and impressive success with past partnerships made them an easy choice.“
The plan was to provide enrollees in the RE:WorkNOW program an opportunity to participate in a ten-week full-stack Java software development class. Once the training was finished, the team at Tech Talent South or the Austin Workforce Board would help them find and apply to a tech position. Workforce Solutions Capital Area and Tech Talent South would work together to find jobs for recent program graduates because both organizations have years of experience placing recently trained tech graduates in entry-level tech positions.
To ensure that the program helped those most in need of job training, the organizers focused on financial accessibility while planning the course. “For many of our students, this program offered the support they needed during this difficult time while learning a new skill in an in-demand occupation,” said Hillary Silvas, Lead Re:WorkNOW Career Counselor with the Workforce Solutions Capital Area Board. “Thanks to funding from the CARES act, we were able to offer a weekly stipend to those enrolled in the training course, which could help offset equipment costs and the loss of income for those who were training instead of being employed due to the pandemic.“ The employed program did not have too many participants who struggled to attend the technology necessary to complete the program, but when folks did struggle, Re:WorkNOW was able to step in with assistance to ensure that students could successfully complete the program. Also helpful was that the course takes place on a rolling basis, meaning that students whose schedule is incompatible with typical spring/fall semester enrollment could enroll for the course on a schedule that worked for them.
The ten-week full-stack development course appealed to participants in part because of its beginner-friendly nature. It was designed to take participants from minimal computer skills to an entry-level developer in just ten weeks.
The program is a great success! Enrollments inRE:WorkNOW has far exceeded initial program goals. More specifically, enrollees in Tech Talent South’s offerings under RE:WorkNOW have demonstrated high-class completion rates. Organizers are also pleased to see that many recent graduates from the program have found high-quality, good-paying jobs. “We are so pleased to have worked with Tech Talent South to train local Travis County residents and make tech education accessible for all,” Spilman said. “And thanks to the fact that we’re able to enroll students on a rolling basis, we will continue training and placing students until funding runs out. There is more to come!”