TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Celebrates Women in Business

Two conference attendees, TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs and Keynote speaker Geneva Grainger.
Pictured from left are two conference attendees, TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs and Keynote speaker Geneva Grainger.

October is National Women’s Small Business Month and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is celebrating the contributions of women in the Texas workforce. TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs prepared a brief video message in recognition of the month long celebration.

In September, TWC along with the Economic Development and Tourism Division of the Office of the Governor, Alamo Area Council of Governments, and Workforce Solutions Alamo, hosted the Inaugural Governor’s Business Forum for Women in partnership with the Governor’s Commission for Women. The sold-out forum provided women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs with informative sessions on finance, branding and communication and business development. This forum was so successful that it will become a regular series of Governor’s Office of Small Business Assistance Governor’s Small Business Forums, which promote the state of Texas as a premier business location.

This forum brought together resource partners from the University of Texas San Antonio Business Development Agency Business Center, Texas Women’s University Women’s Leadership Institute, US Small Business Administration, and Texas Facilities Commission, along with corporate and business leaders to share best practices for creating dynamic changes in today’s world and seizing opportunities and overcoming obstacles.

“TWC believes that small businesses are the backbone of the Texas economy and women play a key role in the success of the state. Texas’ history of women-owned businesses is longstanding and it is great to acknowledge these business owners for their hard work and commitment to excellence,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs.

Texas currently ranks second in the number of women-owned businesses, but Texas numbers are growing at more than twice the rate of all businesses nationwide¹.

Women business owners serve as important role models for potential job creators across the state and play a significant part in the Texas economy. Texas has been listed as the most small-business friendly state in the nation and also earned an A+ from entrepreneurs who started a business in Texas². Women-owned small businesses are an important part of our state’s continued economic success.

TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs spoke to attendees on the topic of “Having a small business in a big business world” during the Inaugural Governor’s Business Forum for Women. This is the seventh year of the Governor’s Small Business Forums, which have been held in rural and urban locations throughout the state and are designed to support the more than 470,000 Texas employers who employ 100 or fewer workers.

These forums are designed to give entrepreneurs and small businesses valuable tools, skills and knowledge needed to thrive in today’s fast-paced economy. Featuring a wide range of instructive seminars and expert speakers offering vital information on both public and private resources, the forums offer a great opportunity to network and connect with industry specialists, government officials, service providers and other regional businesses.

Upcoming events will be held in San Angelo, Brownsville, Victoria, Lufkin and Round Rock. For more information on dates for these events, visit the Texas Wide Open for Business website.

[1] What Make Texas the Most Small Business Friendly State, and Rhode Island the Least – August 15, 2015 Forbes Media

[2] Gov. Greg Abbott: My Goal is to make Texas the No. 1 State for Women-Owned Businesses – September 28, 2015 Forbes Media

Texas HireAbility Campaign Raising Awareness of Hiring People with Disabilities

TXHireAbility_Logo 9-16.png

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has partnered with the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and Texas Workforce Solutions to launch the Texas HireAbility campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.  The campaign is launched in conjunction with National Disability Employment Awareness Month to highlight the contributions of people with disabilities in the workforce. Governor Greg Abbott has issued a proclamation for Disability Employment Awareness Month in Texas. The Texas HireAbility campaign will feature statewide events and resources for employers and job-seekers with disabilities.

Texas HireAbility resources for employers will include a Workplace Accessibility Webinar which employers can access on-demand from the Texas HireAbility website in early October.  TWC will also connect employers to resources on recruiting, hiring and retaining employees with disabilities through the TWC Solutions blog and other social media channels.

As part of the campaign’s launch in October, TWC will partner with Texas Workforce Solutions offices across the state to promote job and hiring fairs to that connect Texas employers with job seekers with disabilities.  These events will be ongoing and will provide opportunities for employers to receive resumes and applications, as well as conduct onsite or post-event interviews.  TWC will also promote events to help employers learn more about recruiting, hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.

Check out October’s full schedule of events associated with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Follow us on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter for more updates about #TXHireAbility.

Working together to help employers hire people with abilities

Rey Cantu sitting in front of computer at workplace
Rey Cantu sitting at his work station – photo courtesy of Workforce Solutions Lower Rio Grande Valley

Employing knowledgeable and skilled employees who have strong abilities and dedicated work ethics is every employer’s dream. On the flipside, most job seekers want to work for business owners, large and small, who focus on their strengths and commitment to their careers. Making both dreams come true can be possible when employers concentrate on a candidate’s ability, not his or her disability, when hiring new employees. Effective Sept. 1, 2016, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and employees from the former Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) began cementing an already strong partnership that strives for achievement of those dreams as the Business Relations team of the vocational rehabilitation program joined the Texas Workforce Solutions service network and became part of TWC.

The transition to this new agency has been a smooth one as the two agencies and their partners have been working together for years to help connect employers with individuals who have the abilities they need.

The story of Rey Cantu is just one example of this collaborative effort.

Rey Cantu is a young man that has difficulty with his vision and is unable to see at night or in places that are not lit properly. He felt that it would not be possible to get a job because of his disability. Cantu is among the more than 1.6 million working-aged Texans with one or more disabilities.

To help Cantu gain employment, Texas Workforce Solutions Lower Rio Grande (Lower Rio) and former DARS employees encouraged him to participate in the Work Experience Program with Lower Rio. Through this program, Cantu learned that he is not defined by his disability.

The Work Experience Program is a planned, structured learning experience that takes place with a business partner for a limited time period. After working with one employer for two-and-a-half months, Cantu was asked to stay on full time. He also received assistance with his communication skills and transportation needs, giving him the confidence needed to successfully gain employment.

“The Workforce Solutions Work Experience Program helps people get back into the workforce and support themselves,” said Lower Rio CEO Frank Almaraz. “It may be something as simple as helping to coach someone to have a little more self-confidence, clean up their résumé and be able to present themselves well or prepare for an interview. Just like Cantu, this training can open the doors to a new career for job seekers looking to join the workforce.”

Lower Rio has partnered with Project HIRE (Helping Individuals to Reach Employment) since 2012 to help hardworking individuals like Cantu develop skills for the workplace. Project HIRE is a grant awarded by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities which provides opportunities for people with disabilities to obtain workplace skills and training.

“Rey was able to gain knowledge, practice and understanding of how to complete job tasks through the work experience he received at Valley Association for Independent Living (VAIL),” said VAIL Program Director Lidia A. Teran Gutierrez. “It allowed him to receive training that prepared him for the position he was offered. Because of this hands-on experience, Rey has been, and without a doubt, continues to be an asset at VAIL.” Partnerships such as Project HIRE provide an opportunity to encourage an individual’s professional skills, while teaching them to overcome barriers to employment. Project HIRE offers people with disabilities the opportunity for a successful career and financial independence. Businesses benefit from these partnerships through technical assistance and training to learn more about accommodating employees with disabilities.

“Participating in the Workforce Solutions Work Experience program helped me show VAIL that I could do the job. I was able to show VAIL my strengths and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get the job at VAIL in the first place without the help of Workforce Solutions,” said Cantu. “Thanks to everyone for all the help.”

Programs similar to Project HIRE and Workforce Experience help businesses become aware of how to train and retain employees who may have a disability.

On a national level, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) 2016 creates awareness of the importance that disability plays in workforce diversity. This year’s NDEAM theme is #InclusionWorks and will be observed in October. NDEAM celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates employers about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of their skills and talents.


Expanding Adult Education Opportunities

Female college student in library
Female college student in library

Public and community college libraries serve in a variety of capacities for Texas residents, providing community focused activities and conveniences for a diverse population. Many of these services lend support in locating beneficial information, resources and strengthening community networks.

In an effort to reinforce neighborhood partnerships, Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) has partnered with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) to expand library engagement with local Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) programs. TSLAC received a $200,000 grant to expand adult education opportunities to more than 4.3 million Texans who qualify for assistance.

The Library AEL Expansion Project provides resources for libraries and literacy providers, including a digital literacy toolkit, a webpage containing best practices, and training workshops. One-on-one consulting will be available to strengthen and connect local adult education facilitators with materials; expanding the adult literacy programs connection with community resources.

Additionally, the project creates opportunities for libraries and adult education providers to align efforts and build new partnerships to meet the needs of adult learners. With TWC’s AEL programs, adult learners receive English language, math, reading, and writing instruction to assist them in acquiring the skills needed to succeed in the workforce, earn a high school equivalency or enter college or career training. Individuals interested in TWC’s AEL program can visit the AEL Teachers and Providers webpage and Texas Adult Education and Literacy web pages.

This 15-month project is part of  the capacity building project initiatives set out in TWC’s Training, Resource and Innovation Network for Texas (TRAIN Tex) strategy to accelerate the advancement of education and training priorities, supporting successful education and workforce transitions for individuals, families and communities across the state of Texas. For more information on the Library AEL Expansion Project and other resources available for professional librarians and adult education providers, visit the TSLAC’s website.

Expansion of Federal Tax Savings Program can help Employers save money each year

Qualified Long-Term Unemployment Recipient added to those eligible for Work Opportunity Tax Credit

Woman standing in doorway of restaurant smiling

Employers who hire a Qualified Long-Term Unemployment Recipient are now entitled to receive up to $2,400 in tax savings for each individual added to their payroll starting January 1, 2016. As part of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act), this group was added to the list of targeted populations who qualify for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).

WOTC, a federal income tax benefit administered by the U.S. Department of Labor for employers, helps targeted workers move from economic dependency into self-sufficiency as they earn a steady income and become contributing taxpayers, while participating employers are able to reduce their income tax liability.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) assists employers by certifying the eligibility of individuals for this federal employer tax benefit. For more information regarding the WOTC program, visit the TWC WOTC web page.

Eligible groups, including the new Qualified Long Term Unemployment Recipients, for WOTC include:

  • Ex-felons
  • Residents of empowerment zones or rural renewal counties
  • Summer youth
  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit recipients
  • Supplemental Security Income recipients
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients
  • Vocational rehabilitation referrals
  • Long Term Family Assistance recipients
  • Veteran groups – Veterans receiving SNAP benefits, disabled and unemployed veterans

Each group has specific qualifications and employers can earn a tax credit from $1,200 to $9,600 per eligible employee hired, depending on which group the newly hired worker represents.


Texas Economy Adds 21,400 Jobs in August

The latest Employment report shows that Texas added an estimated 190,600 seasonally adjusted jobs over the past year. Texas’ total nonfarm seasonally adjusted employment increased by 21,400 jobs in August’s preliminary estimate. The state has added jobs in 16 of the last 17 months.

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 4.7 percent in August, up slightly from 4.6 percent in July, and remained below the national rate of 4.9 percent.

The Financial Activities industry recorded the largest industry employment gain over the month with 6,200 jobs added. Trade, Transportation and Utilities employment added 4,000 jobs in August. Construction employment expanded for the second consecutive month with the addition of 1,300 jobs.

The Amarillo Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) recorded the lowest unemployment rate for August with a 3.4 percent rate for the month. The Austin-Round Rock MSA had the second-lowest rate at 3.5 percent followed by the Lubbock MSA with a rate of 3.8 percent.

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Young Texas Science Fair Champion Shows True Passion for Learning


Nearly 1,150 of the best and brightest young science and engineering minds from across the state displayed their projects at the 30th Annual Texas Science and Engineering Fair on April 2, 2016. The fair, which was hosted by The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), is co-sponsored by the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and ExxonMobil.

The senior division Best-of-Show was awarded to Syamantak Payra of Clear Brook High School in Friendswood who presented a project on “Brace Yourself: A Novel Electronically Aided Leg Orthosis.” Last May, Payra attended the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Phoenix and was named the ISEF Young Scientist Award winner where he received a $50,000 prize. Payra also attended the Texas Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy, a weeklong residential summer camp, also sponsored by TWC, which was held at Texas A&M University in June.

Payra recently provided some insight into what inspired him to get into studying science and why he took part in TXSEF, ISEF and the Texas Governor’s Science and Technology Champions Academy.

  • How did you first become interested in science?
    • I think I grew up with science all around me, without ever realizing that it was, actually, science. I loved cars and machines and reading about how things work, and I got an optics and magnetism set for Christmas once – I think I was in kindergarten that year. My first-grade teacher did crazy science experiments with us all the time, from ketchup-packet buoyancy to CD diffraction gratings, and she urged us to take part in the school science fair. Once I did, I was hooked, and I’ve participated every year since then. In fact, this year was my fourth year in a row competing at the Texas State Science and Engineering Fair. I just remember always having a feeling of excitement and wonder at learning things through experimentation.
  • What did you enjoy most in taking part in the Texas Science and Engineering Fair?
    • There are many rewarding aspects of participating in science fairs. To start with, you can get really helpful feedback and suggestions from judges that can look from perspectives you had never thought of before. Then, there are many interesting conversations to be had with other students and new knowledge and ideas gained from their projects. Finally, it’s always exciting and enriching to be part of an atmosphere of innovation and discovery like that in a science fair.
  • Your science fair project was such a unique idea. How did you think of it?
    • Sometime last summer, I was talking with a family friend and he happened to be complaining about chronic back pain. I knew he had had polio as a child, but I learned that he had lost almost all of the muscle in his left leg and some in his right, and has to wear leg braces to be able to stand or walk. When I asked, he described how conventional braces lock the knee joint to prevent collapse, but when healthy people walk, they bend their knee – something he can’t do, and he has to do awkward, painful movements with the rest of his body to make up for it. Initially, I had started looking for a better brace for him to buy, but when I realized that the alternatives on the market are ridiculously expensive and don’t actually help the patient walk, I decided I would try my hand at the problem and make a retrofit to the conventional brace, that could detect his walking and bend his leg just like his muscles would have.
  • What has life been like after winning at ISEF?
    • I feel really blessed to have been recognized for my work; it’s great to have the validation from scientific experts that what I’m doing is on the right path. Other than that, things have been quite the same. I guess if it was senior year, I’d be getting a break, but junior year’s coming up and there’s lots of work to do, even during the summer.
  • You recently attended the Governors Champions Academy. What did you enjoy most from your experience?
    • This was my second year at the Governor’s Champions Academy, and I really enjoyed the fact that we went to completely different labs and got to interact with a whole different set of faculty and students. It was lots of fun to learn, play, and interact with other like-minded students from all across the state. In addition, it was good to get a slightly more in-depth view of behind-the-scenes workings in labs through various departments at a university than what most high-school kids would be able to see.

Learn more about TWC-supported programs that encourage students to participate in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in order to promote pursuit of careers and educations in these in-demand fields. The Texas Science and Engineering Fair is also seeking judges for the 2017 Science Fair on April 1, 2017 in San Antonio.

Texas Economy Adds 23,600 Jobs in July

The latest Employment report shows that Texas added an estimated 173,000 seasonally adjusted jobs over the past year. Texas’ total nonfarm seasonally adjusted employment increased by 23,600 jobs in July’s preliminary estimate. The state has added jobs in 14 of the last 15 months.

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 4.6 percent in July, up slightly from 4.5 percent in June, and remained below the national rate of 4.9 percent.

The Professional and Business Services industry recorded the largest private industry employment gain over the month with 10,000 jobs added. Construction employment expanded by 7,800 jobs in July. Education and Health Services employment increased by 7,600 jobs.

The Amarillo and Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) recorded the month’s lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs with a non-seasonally adjusted rate of 3.6 percent, followed by the Lubbock MSA with a rate of 4.1 percent in July.

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Working Together to Build a Stronger Workforce

Working together is nothing new for staff at Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas (WFS Dallas) and the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS). They began collaborating more than a decade ago, with DARS staff visiting workforce centers and participating in Workforce Disability Awareness training, as well as providing assistive technology training and technical assistance.

With the upcoming transition of certain DARS programs to TWC, employees vocational rehabilitation specialists will begin co-locating at workforce centers across the state over the next few years. At WFS Dallas, that transition will come later, but the path toward strong collaboration has already been established as some combined staffers who have been working side-by-side already, are learning they can benefit from each other’s expertise.

When the collaboration began, workforce staff arranged space in centers for DARS staff meetings and Job Club, held workshops and provided information on workforce services, hiring events, job leads, seminars and orientations.

Workforce staff has built on that foundation with employer education workshops and hiring events for job seekers with disabilities. These events create awareness about workplace accessibility, universal design and assistive technology.

Workforce staff makes weekly visits to the DARS Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS) Irving Field Office to work one-on-one with vocational rehabilitation consumers.

“This relationship has resulted in an increased number of placements for DRS consumers as our representative assists them directly with placement through,” says Brenda Russell, Irving area manager.

In May 2015, WFS Dallas created a Disability Services Pilot Program, hiring six talent development specialists to provide job-seeking services specifically for people with disabilities, such as résumé writing assistance, networking, interview preparation, referrals and accommodations.

DARS area managers quickly embraced the pilot and invited the talent development specialists to co-locate within eight DARS offices to streamline delivery of employment related services and support.

“We worked together to develop employment strategies and resources to help people with disabilities become employed,” says Gena Swett, Rehabilitation Services program Specialist. “The talent development specialist traveling to each DARS field offices has been very successful with helping people with disabilities obtain employment.”

The pilot program has placed more than 140 job seekers with a wide variety of disabilities in competitive, integrated jobs. The DARS/WFS Dallas co-locations showcases teamwork and lays the groundwork for the full integration of co-located services that will happen over the next few years.

“The pilot did everything we hoped. DARS staff and workforce center staff are working on the same outcome,” says Laurie Bouillion Larrea, WFS Dallas President. “Now we work seamlessly and the employer sees more robust and diverse talent. This is working!”

Undrae Knox, a Rehabilitation Services manager at the co-located office, says the co-location has paid dividends because it allows convenient face-to-face contact with, and real-time feedback from, WFS specialists. Knox has some simple advice to other co-locating staff.

“The co-location is a resource and when helping our consumers, we can never have too many resources, especially when they are in-house,” Knox says.


Blind Services Assisting Texans to Secure Employment

The Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program and services are transferring to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) on September 1, 2016. VR services will be administered under the new program name Texas Workforce Solutions-Vocational Rehabilitation Services at TWC.

The program promotes independent and productive lives for adults and youth with disabilities by helping them  prepare for, find and advance in employment. This program serves individuals with a variety of disabilities and is currently administered through two divisions at DARS—one for individuals who are blind, the other for all other disabilities. The legislation that transferred the program to TWC also requires that the two divisions merge into one division that will serve all disabilities by October 1, 2017.

VR services for  people who are blind or visually impaired are specifically designed to help them prepare for and obtain or retain high quality careers.  To accomplish this, individuals who are blind and visually impaired are provided  training to live independently, and to be successful in school and beyond.  Some of these services include:

  • Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center (CCRC)
    • CCRC is a comprehensive, residential training facility located in Austin, Texas, that works in partnership with VR consumers with visual impairments to help them achieve their employment and independent living goals. CCRC offers training in core skills such as orientation and mobility, Braille, daily living skills and career development.
  • Transition Services
    • Transitions services, a subset of  services in the VR program, partner with  students and youth with vision loss, and those who may have additional disabilities, to assist with making an effective transition from school to adulthood and the workforce.  Through career exploration and guidance, educational support at school, peer supports and mentors, work-based learning opportunities, and the provision of a wide variety of activities that also promote independent living and travel skills, these services help consumers prepare for and make informed decisions about their future goals related to employment, post-secondary training, and post-school life.
  • Deafblind Services
    • Deafblind services are provided by a specialized unit that serves VR consumers who experience a combination of deafness and blindness. Deafblind services help VR consumers prepare for and find employment by providing assistive technology, education, training, and other needed resources.

In addition, TWC will administer the Business Enterprises of Texas (BET) program. The VR program works closely with BET by collaborating to identify individuals with visual impairments who are suitable to complete training to become licensed food service and vending management professionals. BET managers earn their personal income from profits produced by their businesses, which are located on state and federal properties.

Information related to the transition of DARS programs to TWC can be found on the TWC Transition webpage and the DARS Transition webpage.

For information about programs transferring to HHSC, visit the HHSC Transformation webpage.