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.


Education and skills blossom into a new career for one Austin-area youth

Mario & building best091.jpgWhen Mario Castor learned that he was selected for the Workforce Solutions Capital Area (Capital Area) Excellence through Individual Achievement (Youth) award in Austin, he hesitated to even attend the Capital Area October 2015 awards presentation luncheon. Until he heard his accomplishments read out loud, he had not realized how much he had achieved in the last three years. He walked away from the luncheon with a great sense of achievement.

Mario overcame some tough circumstances. A high school dropout, he was struggling to make a living and support his family through a minimum-wage, fast-food job, when he realized he had to make some changes.

“I was hanging out with the wrong friends and I faced not being able to finish high school. I had little personal motivation and I questioned my existence [in life]. I was a shy person and full of anger, but inside me there was a flower that wanted to bloom.”

Mario’s inner desires began to take root when he found resources that not only guided him with an education plan, but also provided marketable skills that laid a foundation for employment. He registered with the Texas Workforce Commission’s job database through Capital Area and began preparing not just for a job, but a career.

Through Capital Area’s Youth Employment Partnership he connected with American YouthWorks (AYW) where young, low-income people (ages 14-21) are exposed to work-ready and life skills through training programs and services that help them achieve their goals. Some of the programs and services include: GED test preparation or high school graduation guidance, job skills training, job placement, paid work experience, and community service opportunities. AYW provides ongoing community resources and offers project-based enrichment programs to help young people succeed.

With the help of nutrients from these resources, the flower began to grow. Over three years, Mario participated in 456 hours of training and service at AYW. He learned construction skills that included electrical wiring and air conditioning service and installation. He enrolled at Austin Community College, and within three months earned a welding certification. He continued to excel in various industry skills which led to a higher wages.

Mario is now a certified Roofing Torch Applicator working full-time for a commercial construction company and is on an in-demand career path that allows him to support his family.

“Workforce Solutions Capital Area is proud of Mario’s many accomplishments,” said Capital Area’s Deputy Executive Director Tamara Atkinson.  “Through his story, we are reminded of how valuable case management and support services are in assisting clients to reach their goals.”

When asked how he would advise other young people struggling to find their career path, he suggested that services through Capital Area’s youth partnerships can really help someone achieve beyond their expectations.

“There are people who can help. Look to Goodwill (Goodwill Career & Technical Academy) and AYW. In my family, I am the first to graduate from high school. I did it at 20 years old, but I did it! AYW became my second family and they continue to support me,” Mario shared. “I can rely on them.”

Rarely, do you see a flower in bloom standing alone. Mario’s life-shift has inspired others as well. At least a dozen of his friends have been motivated to improve their own life choices and he has laid the foundation for a better future for his six-year old son, who he now helps with his schoolwork.

“Mario’s story inspires me. Keeping young people engaged is a big part of my job, but at the end of the day, it’s their successes that keep me motivated and hopeful of the future,” said Vanessa Perez, Mario’s case manager from AYW. “Mario’s success is what happens when partnerships in the community come together, and invest in our young people.”

In addition to being a helpful dad, Mario recently served on the AYW Alumni Circle where he is able to connect with and motivate the new students in the program so that they too can blossom and reach their potential.

For more information about Workforce Solutions’ services, find your local office through our online office locator and contact them today.

Helping AT&T through Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas

Relocation can be challenging for most companies, but when you are one of the largest telecommunications firms in the world, moving to a new city can present a host of bigger challenges and opportunities.

Fortunately, AT&T was able to partner with Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas (WFSDallas) and its various services to meet their recruitment, training and hiring needs.

AT&T has a long history of bringing innovation and jobs to Texas, and in 2008, made the decision to relocate its corporate office from San Antonio to Dallas. The move created the opportunity for new partnerships and an investment in the DFW community.

“AT&T’s commitment to the communities we serve, live and work is well known,” said AT&T’s Vice President of Talent Management Julie Bugala. “Our $350 million education-focused giving through AT&T Aspire is making a difference – and we’ll continue to support local partnerships and programs that show results.”

Within a few short years after relocation, AT&T announced plans for business expansion through Project Velocity IP (VIP) and once again WFSDallas and the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) were there to help. With the expansion of services through VIP, came the need for a custom-trained workforce. In 2012, AT&T expressed a need to fill hundreds of newly created jobs and reached out to the Dallas County Community College District El Centro College to partner on a Skills Development Fund grant program application through TWC.

Through the Skills Development Fund, businesses are able to partner with local community colleges to apply for state-funded customized job-training for new and incumbent employees.

During this first phase of funding, El Centro was awarded $1,919,856 to provide instruction to 800 new AT&T employees. Workers hired for the training were able to enter into a Telecommunications Career Pathway, which would lead to higher wages and career advancement within AT&T and would be transferable to other careers in the telecommunications industry.

In 2016, in response to growing demand in the telecommunications and information technology sector, AT&T initiated another phase of training through an additional $999,704 Skills Development Fund grant to train 400 more employees.

“The economic growth of the telecommunications and information technology sector has allowed the Dallas area to benefit from a skilled workforce,” said WFSDallas President Laurie Bouillion Larrea. “We are proud to partner with AT&T as it continues to expand products and services worldwide, while bringing career opportunities to local jobseekers.”

AT&T continues to partner with WFSDallas to hire workers and provide technical skills that prepare its workforce for new career opportunities. Through, hiring events and skills grants, AT&T has improved the ease of recruitment and has developed a reputation for providing customized and comprehensive training plans for new workers.

WFSDallas connects employers like AT&T to collaborative opportunities in our communities to help skill up the future workforce,” said Bugala.

With 28 local workforce development boards across the state offering direct consultation and customized workforce services, in FY2015, approximately 88,811 employers received human resource assistance and other outreach services to address their business needs.

Bugala touts AT&T’s ongoing support in the DFW community through programs that will help the telecommunications industry maintain a ready and skilled workforce. “…Like our new initiative with Seagoville High school, where we are the corporate collaborator for the newly forming PTECH (Pathways in Technology) program and our partnership with Eastfield College, where AT&T will provide student mentoring and curriculum consultation.”