City council’s $ 200 million bet on vocational training faces high chances


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The challenges Dyvontrae Johnson and Jonathan Gonzalez face in finding new skills and stable, well-paying jobs in San Antonio is why expensive government programs to retrain unemployed and underemployed adults so often fail.

The two have lost or left low-wage jobs over the past two years as the pandemic disrupted the economy, and now hope a skills training program can lift them out of the low-wage economy by San Antonio.

Voters in San Antonio offered overwhelming support in November 2020 for a ballot initiative that will dedicate a sales tax of 1/8 of a cent for the next four and a half years to fund an ambitious $ 200 million skills training program. , SA Ready to Work. Mayor Ron Nirenberg has set an ambitious goal of retraining and employing 40,000 San Antonians who now earn less than $ 32,000 a year or are out of work.

This is an unprecedented effort by any city in the United States to directly fund third-party skills training programs that aim to connect low-wage workers with new skills and good jobs with local employers. . Yet even $ 200 million may not be enough to provide all of the comprehensive services adults living in poverty need to enroll in and complete such programs.

If you missed the excellent December 31 post by senior reporter Iris Dimmick which focuses on Johnson and Gonzalez’s respective experiences, read it now and then come back to this column as I explore why such a noble wrestling initiative. Against Poverty faces so many obstacles in its attempt to lift this large number of working adults out of poverty.

Johnson, 31, a father of two who lives with him full time, fears deportation as he works to earn an information technology certification through Train for Jobs SA, a predecessor program of SA Ready to Work launched by the city last year in partnership with Alamo Colleges.

The objective of the program was to place 10,000 interns in new, better paying jobs. By mid-December, more than 9,500 people had completed preliminary admission to the program and 4,433 were currently in training. Of those who graduated, 929 are looking for a job and 888 have found a job. While the final outcome of the program will not be known for at least another calendar year, the bottom line to date illustrates how difficult it is to get people to take such programs and find meaningful employment.

The weekly allowance of $ 360 Johnson receives under the program is lower than the maximum of $ 450 that he believed he was paid. And, he later learned, no stipends were paid for his first three weeks in the program as administrators put him into the system. Imagine a private sector employer telling a new hire that their first three weeks of work would not be paid while their documents were processed.

Johnson continues to fall behind on his monthly rent and has no disposable income, a painful reality as he raised two young children during the holidays.

While Johnson will complete the course in March, he now regrets not accepting a job laying fiber optic cables that he refused to enroll in the computer course. He wonders if voters who have approved the tax-funded SA Ready to Work program realize that it will not pay weekly allowances to registrants.

“People voted with confidence that a bunch of people with money and costumes were coming and in fact really couldn’t care less about people like me,” Johnson told Dimmick, referring to the November 2020 election when voters overwhelmingly approved the sales tax for Ready. to work. “Here I am about to be potentially out of my home.”

Jonathan Gonzalez, 26, is enrolled in the same computer course as Johnson. His circumstances, however, are more promising. He works part time for a landscaping company and lives at home with his father. Not facing the kind of pressure on Johnson, he rings a more optimistic note.

“I don’t have huge bills,” Gonzalez told Dimmick. “I have my car insurance, I have my cell phone, then I have, for example, two credit cards that I pay off. And I’m good after that.

I support the city team that will oversee the SA Ready to Work program and was impressed by the 77% of voters who came together to support a major anti-poverty initiative. However, I am skeptical about the objectives of the program and its structure.

People living in poverty who want to get the education they need to qualify for better jobs must find a way to pay their rent or mortgage and utilities, child care, groceries and transportation. Take away their ability to make ends meet in any of these key categories and they won’t participate and successfully complete a long-term program.

The estimated $ 200 million from sales taxes to allow 40,000 people to take training programs and find new jobs over four years will only affect $ 5,000 per registrant. It strikes me as a naively low per capita expenditure.

The city has other funds to provide individuals with one-time emergency grants of up to $ 1,500 to pay for rent, utilities, vehicle repairs and to deal with other emergencies. The Alamo Region Community Network, a system of community service organizations, will be used to connect students with social care services.

It won’t be enough, I predict.

Wouldn’t it be better, and more realistic, to reduce the size of the target group of registrants and restructure SA Ready to Work with more comprehensive services designed to provide participants with greater financial stability throughout the program?

Lifting, say, 10,000 heads of households out of poverty at a cost of $ 20,000 per person would be a laudable and perhaps more realistic goal. Such success would then encourage voters to find ways to extend the life of the initiative. Failure will lead to the opposite result.

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