TWC Texas Two Step Tour Swings through South Texas to Listen, Learn from Rural Communities

“I don’t know how to two-step, but what I do know how to do is work together, and you know when you two step you have a partner. And so, it’s no good for me to just be the left leg if I don’t include the right leg. And so, what we are doing here, when we do the two step, we’re in unison, we’re working together.”

— TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez

What is a Listening Tour?

When a state agency and its program officers from Austin take the time to travel to rural areas across South Texas and listen to locals, communities, employers, individuals and stakeholders, the agency benefits with greater understanding, deeper insights and more valuable perspectives about the people it serves.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is more accessible than most people may realize. Through more than 200 Workforce Centers and satellite offices across the state of Texas, and 130 Vocational Rehabilitation field offices, TWC connects job seekers and employers with workforce development services and training — but TWC wanted to hear directly from multiple stakeholders: Local workforce boards, employers, economic development corporations, independent school districts superintendents, trainers, counselors, non-profits, chambers, elected officials and constituents.  That’s why TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez and TWC staff representing several TWC programs embarked on a South Texas listening tour, April 9-13, 2018.

Where Did We Go?

The group visited six specific Workforce Board regions: Lower Rio, South Texas, Cameron County, Coastal Bend, Alamo and Capital Area Workforce Development Areas taking along staff from TWC’s Skills Development Fund; Vocational Rehabilitation program; Apprenticeship program; and Adult Education and Literacy program. City stops included Brownsville, Laredo, Corpus Christi, San Diego, San Antonio/Hondo and Austin.

Texas Two Step Boot Tour logo and map of Workforce Board areas that were visited in South Texas

Why Did We Go?

  1. Listen and learn from rural communities. Allow stakeholders to tell their stories, share their struggles and their successes.
  2. Build strong relationships with rural communities and determine how to work together as a team with workforce development and training services in mind.
  3. Educate on our workforce and training program staff, generate new interest from individuals we might not normally hear from, and bring better services.
  4. Exit with takeaways to use as next action items.

“The primary goal of our tour was to help people feel heard, educate them on our workforce and training programs, generate new interest from individuals we wouldn’t normally hear from, bringing better services to local communities,” Commissioner Alvarez stated. “Having a transparent and informative conversation is one of the best exercises you can do to improve your program.”

Commissioner Alvarez explained that many Texans cannot afford to make it to Austin to discuss their workforce development experience and needs, and that others may simply be unaware of what TWC services are available.

Which Programs Went on Tour?

TWC Program Managers pose in front of the Texas Capitol with signs announcing the tour kickoff
Photo: TWC Program Managers kicked off the Texas Two Step Boot Tour from Austin and headed to Brownsville for the first listening tour stop.
  1. Skills Development Fund
  2. Adult Education and Literacy (AEL)
  3. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)
  4. Apprenticeship

Since TWC staff fielded so many questions about essential programs, we asked the staff to offer an overview of major TWC programs:

1. The Skills Development Fund is Texas’ premier job-training program providing local customized training opportunities for Texas businesses and workers to increase skill levels and wages of the Texas workforce. The Texas Workforce Commission administers funding for the program. Success is achieved through collaboration among businesses, public community and technical colleges, Workforce Development Boards and economic development partners.

2. Adult Education and Literacy providers are organizations with instructors delivering English language, math, reading, writing and workforce training instruction to help adult students acquire the skills needed to succeed in the workforce, earn a high school equivalency, and enter and succeed in college or workforce training. TWC contracts with a wide variety of organizations to provide AEL instruction and promote an increased opportunity for adult learners to transition to post-secondary education, training or employment.

3. The Vocational Rehabilitation program helps people with disabilities prepare for, find or retain employment and helps youth and students prepare for post-secondary opportunities.  The program also helps businesses and employers recruit, retain and accommodate employees with disabilities. The program serves adults with disabilities; youth and students with disabilities and businesses and employers.

4. Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced journey workers with related classroom instruction. Most registered apprenticeship training programs last from three to five years as determined by industry standards.

Highlights of the Texas Two Step Listening Tour

Day 1 – April 9 – Brownsville: Workforce Solutions – Cameron

The 2018 Texas Two Step Tour began with a stop in Brownsville, to visit with the Cameron County Workforce Board.

A forum was held at the Texas Southmost College Performing Arts Center.

While there were multiple questions asked at the Texas Southmost College, one major realization realized from the overall discussion is the severity of the skilled trades “skills gap” in the area and the need to continue the development of technical and skilled trades programs at both the high school and college levels to close those gaps as soon as possible.

TWC Commissioner Julian Alvarez and the Texas Two Step Boot Tour team appear on stage at Texas Southmost College Performing Arts Center.
Photo: Attendees of the Labor Boot Tour learned about customized training through Skills Development and Apprenticeship.

This conversation was followed by attendees of the Labor Boot Tour learning directly about customized training through our Skills Development and Apprenticeship teams discussing TWC programs.

While seated on stage among fellow program managers, TWC Director of Employer Initiatives Aaron Demerson speaks into a microphone to discuss the Skills Development Fund to stakeholders in Brownsville.
Photo: TWC Director of Employer Initiatives Aaron Demerson discusses the Skills Development Fund to stakeholders in Brownsville.

Commissioner Alvarez noted that worker training is the key as the Rio Grande Valley transforms from an agricultural economy to an advance manufacturing, aerospace, maritime and LNG economy.

Invited stakeholders included Career & Technical educators, college tech-ed officials, Economic Development Corporaitons, and the Port of Brownsville–all of whom gave brief presentations of what they are working on, and the need for continued TWC funding assistance to be successful–particularly increased JET funding for the next biennium.

An overall realization demonstrated was the severity of the skilled trades “skills gap” in the area and the need to continue the development of technical and skilled trades programs at both the high school and college levels to close those gaps as soon as possible.

“All-in-all, [today] was enlightening to a large and varied audience, and the resulting sense of urgency to continue building CTE capacity in our schools and colleges was an overriding outcome.  We sincerely thank Commissioner Alvarez and his staff for their dedication and availability, and appreciate their passion for what they do for the great State of Texas.”

— Marisa Almaraz, WFS – Cameron Executive Assistant

Day 1 – April 9 Continued – Mission: Workforce Solutions – Lower Rio Grande Valley

In Mission, Texas, the Two Step Tour participants were hosted by Workforce Solutions-Lower Rio Grande,  and began with an in-depth tour of Royal Technologies, an advanced engineering and manufacturing company that services diverse industries.

Royal Technologies takes TWC Texas Two Step Program Staff on a tour of their manufacturing facility.
Photo: Royal Technologies takes TWC Program Staff on a tour of their manufacturing facility.
The group tours the inside of the Royal Technologies work space
Photo: Tour of the Royal Technologies work space.

Highlights of the tour included viewing how automation and robotics are used by companies such as Royal Technologies, to create labor costs efficiencies, and how a manufacturing company serves both automobile and technology markets in North America and Mexico.

The tour was followed by a stakeholder meeting at South Texas College Technology Campus in McAllen, for the larger group Q&A discussion where Commissioner Alvarez, and TWC key staff from Austin, provided stakeholders pertinent information about programs and services available to the region.

TWC Program Directors field questions from the listening forum attendees in Mission.
Photo: TWC Program Directors field questions from the listening forum attendees in Mission.

TWC staff engaged in one-on-one discussions with stakeholders representing economic development corporations, business, education and community based organizations.

Mission’s Key Economic Development Drivers:

  • Maximizing and leveraging partnerships and information to better serve individuals with disabilities.
  • Development of innovative partnerships and programs through apprenticeship programs: TWC’s Desi Holmes answered various questions regarding apprenticeship programs and shared best practices (as seen across the state) in efforts to create programs that enables individuals to obtain workplace-relevant knowledge and skills.
  • Overall, creating responsive programs to meet the needs of business.
TWC Staff, Workforce Solutions – Lower Rio Grande Valley Staff, and area stakeholders join for a photo at the Mission listening forum.
Photo: TWC Staff, Workforce Solutions – Lower Rio Grande Valley Staff, and area stakeholders join for a photo at the Mission listening forum.

“The Texas Workforce Commission Texas Two Step Listening Tour hosted by Workforce Solutions-Lower Rio was an enormous success and beneficial to our community stakeholders.  Perhaps the most notable experience for the attendees was that TWC key staff and subject matter experts were so readily available to respond immediately to stakeholder questions and offer additional resources and information to pursue programs, services and grant awards available through TWC.  The real-time technical assistance was invaluable for those in attendance. TWCs responsiveness and availability equips our stakeholders to develop responsive solutions.”

— Arcelia Sanchez, Business Representative, WFS Lower Rio

Day 2 – April 10 – Laredo: Workforce Solutions – South Texas

During the visit with Workforce Solutions of South Texas, the team visited Lyndon B. Johnson High School.

Rogelio Trevino ED WFS South Texas takes TWC Program staffers on a tour of LBJ High School in Laredo, to see JET and Dual Credit funding at work.
Photo: Rogelio Trevino ED WFS South Texas takes TWC Program staffers on a tour of LBJ High School in Laredo, to see JET and Dual Credit funding at work.
Students at LBJ High School work on life-sized computer simulated cadavers made possible through dual credit funding.
Photo: Students at LBJ High School work on life-sized computer simulated cadavers made possible through dual credit funding.

The team then visited the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio Regional Campus Laredo.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz welcomes Commissioner Alvarez and TWC Program Directors to Laredo.
Photo: Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz welcomes Commissioner Alvarez and TWC Program Directors to Laredo.
Two Step Tour staff fielded questions from participants of the stakeholder listening forum.
Photo: Two Step Tour staff fielded questions from participants of the stakeholder listening forum.

The team then visited Doctors Hospital of Laredo.

The Boot Tour team visits Doctors Hospital in Laredo to see Skills Development dollars in action.
Photo: The Boot Tour team visits Doctors Hospital in Laredo to see Skills Development dollars in action.

Day 3 – April 11 – San Diego: Workforce Solutions – Coastal Bend

Commissioner Alvarez and the Boot Tour team kicked-off day three at San Diego High School with Superintendent Dr. Samuel Bueno and Principal Claudette Garcia.

San Diego Early College High School students show off their classroom hospital room lab stations to TWC staff.
Photo: San Diego Early College High School students show off their classroom hospital room lab stations to TWC staff.

The group toured the Certified Nursing Assistant and Welding programs funded by the JET and Dual Credit grants provided by the Texas Workforce Commission.

Welding students at San Diego High School talk about the benefits of their CTE education with TWC Commissioner Julian Alvarez.
Photo: Welding students at San Diego High School talk about the benefits of their CTE education with TWC Commissioner Julian Alvarez.

Day 3 – April 11 Continued – Corpus Christi: Workforce Solutions – Coastal Bend

The Two Step Tour group then moved on to Corpus Christi to meet with staff at the Workforce Solutions – Coastal Bend, as well as area stakeholders.

Superintendents of the Calallen and Flour Bluff Independent School Districts briefed the group on their Career and Technology Programs.

TWC Commissioner Julian Alvarez returns to the classroom to chat with superintendents from Calallen and Flour Bluff Independent School Districts.
Photo: TWC Commissioner Julian Alvarez returns to the classroom to chat with superintendents from Calallen and Flour Bluff Independent School Districts.

Iain Vasey, president of the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation, provided an overview of the Coastal Bend economy and $50 billion in current regional projects.

Iain Vasey, president of the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation, provided an overview of the Coastal Bend economy and $50 billion in current regional projects.
Photo: Iain Vasey, president of the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation, provided an overview of the Coastal Bend economy and $50 billion in current regional projects.

The visit concluded with a tour of the Craft Training Center of the Coastal Bend.

Dr. Mike Sandroussi gives a tour of the Craft Learning Center to Commissioner Alvarez and TWC Program Staff.
Photo: Dr. Mike Sandroussi gives a tour of the Craft Learning Center to Commissioner Alvarez and TWC Program Staff.
Commissioner Alvarez points to a graphic on a vehicle that points out that the Craft Learning Center partners with WFS Coastal Bend for Workforce Training
Photo: Craft Learning Center partners with WFS Coastal Bend for Workforce Training.

Day 4 – April 12 – San Antonio: Workforce Solutions – Alamo

The Boot Tour team visited Workforce Solutions Alamo on day four and hosted a listening session and invitation for questions.

Workforce Solutions Alamo and Two Step Tour participants site around a u shaped table for their talking and listening session.
Photo: Workforce Solutions Alamo welcomes 2018 Texas Two Step Boot Tour.

San Antonio’s Important Topics:

  • Dr. Bruce Leslie, Chancellor, Alamo Colleges – provided an overview of Alamo INSTITUTES which consist of six categories: Creative & Communication Arts; Business & Entrepreneurship; Health & Biosciences; Advanced Manufacturing & Logistics; Public Service; and Science & Technology.
  • Pooja Tripathi, Project Coordinator – Workforce Services, Bexar County Economic Development Department and Mary Batch, Assistant Manager, Human Resource Development (HRD), Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc. – provided an overview of TXFAME.
  • David J. Zammiello, Executive Director Project Quest – provided an organizational overview. The mission of Project QUEST is to strengthen the economy by providing expert support and resources to develop a pipeline of highly qualified employees for in-demand occupations that offer a living wage, benefits and a career path.
  • Ryan Lugalia-Hollan, Executive Director P16 Plus – Mission statement is to ensure that all young people in Bexar County are ready for the future. Programs designed to help youth understand and master the concepts and challenges of basic personal finance investments in programs to build a pipeline of STEM-capable students.
  • Steve Hussain, Chief Mission Officer, Goodwill Industries of San Antonio – Good Careers Academy – Goodwill San Antonio’s goal is to provide an educated workforce empowered to reach their career and life goals and achieve self-sufficiency for themselves and their families. Particularly focus on empowering individuals who face barriers in gaining employment by providing education, training, career services and robust service coordination.
  • Juan Antonio Flores, Executive Vice President, Governmental Relations, Port San Antonio –provided an overview. Home to over 70 tenant customers who directly employ about 12,000 fellow citizens.
  • David Meadows, City of San Antonio Economic Development Department (EDD) – provided an overview. Development of Workforce Development Division. EDD has funded workforce agencies for many years but only started developing policy around workforce development over the last couple of years.

The second portion of the tour took place at Accenture Federal Services (AFS). Ali Bokhari, AFS Delivery Network Director, Accenture Federal Services, provided an overview and tour of the facility. Romanita Mata-Barrera, SA Works, was able to join the group and partake in the discussion.

A group of Texas Two Step and Workforce Solutions Alamo staffers pose for a photo at Accenture Federal Services
Photo: Accenture Tour showcasing their varied services and jobs to the Texas Two Step Boot Tour.

Accenture’s Important Topics: 

  • Vocational Rehabilitation – discussion regarding the partnership Accenture Federal Services has developed with Texas Workforce Commission Vocational Rehabilitation San Antonio location regarding the employment of people with disabilities. This is an ongoing partnership with not only TWC Vocational Rehabilitation staff but also WSA staff.
  • On-the-Job-Training – discussion regarding how AFS and WSA are collaborating in providing OJT noting obstacles that have been encountered.
  • Apprenticeship – AFS provided a review of their in-house apprenticeship program.
Texas Two Step Tour members pose for a group photo inside the Accenture Federal Services headquarters in San Antonio.
Photo: Texas Two Step Tour members pose for a group photo inside the Accenture Federal Services headquarters in San Antonio.

This portion of the tour brought the team back to the Board Office.

Carolyn King, Director Grants and Clinical Education Operations, Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio provided an overview of the various initiatives Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio has utilized focusing on TWC grant funding. Mark Milton, Senior Director of Workforce Operations, Goodwill Industries of San Antonio – Good Careers Academy was also in attendance.

Some of the Items Discussed:

  • Retention opportunities utilizing Goodwill, Project Quest as well as Alamo Colleges.
  • Interview Skills, helping students determine the best fit. Interviewing with numerous departments at the same time. This has been successful for not only the students but the respective supervisors.
  • Utilization of Skills Development Funds.
Tour of the Goodwill Good Careers Academy in San Antonio.
Photo: Tour of the Goodwill Good Careers Academy in San Antonio.

The final leg of the visit to San Antonio was a guided tour of the Goodwill – Good Careers Academy, located at 406 West Commerce St., San Antonio, 78207.

Mark Milton, Senior Director of Workforce Operations, Goodwill Industries of San Antonio – Good Careers Academy provided the tour. Steve Hussain, Chief Mission Officer welcomed the team to Good Careers Academy.

Some of the items highlighted were the classroom, as that particular Good Careers Academy hosts students from Fox Tech High School.

Day 4 – April 12 Continued – Hondo: Workforce Solutions – Alamo

This portion of the tour took place at South Texas Regional Training Center (STRTC) 402 Carter St., Hondo 78861 (Medina County).

Members of the Two Step Tour and Workforce Solutions Alamo meet around a table with stakeholders in Hondo.
Photo: A view of the stakeholder listening forum in Hondo.

Hondo Mayor James Danner, and Jesse M. Perez, of the City of Hondo, Economic Development Department, provided an overview of workforce initiatives in Hondo/Medina County.

Hondo Key Economic Development Drivers:

  • In 2013 the City of Hondo initiated discussions with Goodwill Good Careers Academy to bring CNA course and other technical courses to the STRTC. And agreement with Hondo High School and Goodwill was created to offer CNA to Hondo High School Seniors.
  • In 2014 Concordia University began offering a Master’s Degree for teachers and BS Degree for Teachers’ Aides seeking to become teachers.

    Commissioner Julian Alvarez presents a TWC Challenge Coin to Hondo Director of Economic Development Jesse M. Perez.
    Photo: Commissioner Julian Alvarez presents a TWC Challenge Coin to Hondo Director of Economic Development Jesse M. Perez.
  • In 2016 the City of Hondo Economic Development Corporation (COHEDC) approved $285,000 to renovate 5,000 sq. ft. of vacant space into an allied health training suite and create two additional multi-purpose classrooms.
  • In 2016, the City of Hondo and COHEDC submitted a request to the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) for a $960,000 grant with a $240,000 local match to build an annex for vocational/technical courses. EDA approved the grant request and are in the process of making arrangements to build the annex.
  • In January 2016 WSA leased space to provide workforce development services in Medina County at STRTC.
  • In 2017, together with WSA and Southern Career Institute (SCI) CNA courses were offered to adults. SCI provides the instruction. WSA provides funding for qualified adults.
A group photo from the stakeholder listening forum in Hondo.
Photo: A group photo from the stakeholder listening forum in Hondo.

Day 5 – April 13 – Austin: Workforce Solutions – Capital Area

The Texas Two Step Boot Tour team met with Workforce Solutions of the Capital Area staff on day five.

The team toured St. David’s North Austin Medical Center.

Members of the Two Step Boot Tour visit a maternity delivery room at St. David's North Austin Medical Center which features training tools to simulate a mother and newborn child.
Photo: Members of the Two Step Boot Tour visit a maternity delivery room at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center which features training tools to simulate a mother and newborn child.

The team also toured the Austin Community College ACCelerator Laboratory.

ACC ACCelerator displayed a greeting for TWC Commissioner Alvarez on monitor featuring a photo of him and a welcome message.
Photo: ACC ACCelerator displayed a greeting for the Texas Two Step Boot Tour team.
Inside view of the large internal area of the Austin Community College ACCelerator Laboratory, which is filled with computer on desks.
Photo: ACC ACCelerator’s vast training and work space.

The final day of the Boot Tour culminated in a listening session with Workforce Solutions Capital Area staff and local stakeholders.

A view of the listening forum with Workforce Solutions Capital area staffers and stakeholders.
Photo: A view of the listening forum with Workforce Solutions Capital area staffers and stakeholders.

Learnings & Takeaways

“Commissioner Alvarez: Having traveled through several regions and multiple cities on tour,  what did you learn? What seemed significant? Were there any major takeaways for you?”

“Those are good questions. TWC went on tour to listen and learn from rural communities. This was an opportunity to allow stakeholders to tell their stories, share their struggles and their successes.  I think what really stood out about the tour for me is how much our services here at TWC have had such an impact on so many lives, communities and the economy.  For example, I knew TWC makes a difference and that TWC-TWS workforce and development training programs and services have the ability to change lives, but it’s different seeing that in person. I knew our grants really trained people but it’s different seeing it up close and personal. That really hit home for me having had the opportunity to tour and witness first-hand a high school with 400 students on the receiving end of a JET grant. It was very powerful.  And the students were equally as enthusiastic about sharing how it has changed their lives.

These students are experiencing the newest and latest welding methods due to one grant with the end result being that industry are hiring many of them right out of high school.  And that’s success, right there.  That’s a significant takeaway. And sometimes the results speak for themselves.

A secondary purpose for the tour was to build strong relationships with rural communities and determine how to work together going forward as a team with workforce development and training services in mind.  On that note, I feel the tour was successful in that we successfully brought Austin to communities that can’t afford to travel to Austin to meet with our agency directly. Many who attended these stakeholder meetings and discussions were employees of non-profits while others ran agencies with limited resources.

Finally, I’m glad to be part of such a great agency and work alongside individuals who truly care about what they do and the people they serve.  Another purpose for the tour was for us to educate on our workforce and training programs, generate new interest from individuals we might not normally hear from, and bring better services. This tour allowed me a second opportunity to to experience how professional and knowledgeable our TWC staff actually are, how passionate they are about their programs and educating others, and how much they want to help others which is the essence of bringing better services.

I’m glad for some actions items and takeaways. And finally, I’m glad to be part of such a great agency.”

 

Each member of the Texas Two Step Boot Tour placed one of their shoes in the form of a circle to symbolize unity.
Photo: Each member of the Texas Two Step Boot Tour placed one of their shoes in the form of a circle to symbolize unity.

Additional Takeaways and Future Action Items: 

  • Takeaway 1 – Target “Skills Gap”: The severity of the skilled trades “skills gap” demonstrates a strong need to continue the development of technical and skilled trades programs at both the high school and college levels to close gaps as soon as possible. Several communities spoke of the sense of urgency to continue building Career Technical Education (CTE) capacity in schools and colleges. TWC should also address how to help colleges work better with one another to build capacity and provide training for each other.
  • Takeaway 2 – More TWC Outreach: Multiple individuals and communities are unfamiliar with TWC programs and there exists a strong need for greater awareness. TWC needs to better educate what TWC programs can offer. This tour demonstrated the fact that certain folks do not know what an Adult Education Literacy program entails, or how Skills Fund works, or who the Vocational Rehabilitation program touches or affects — or how apprenticeship programs can change young lives. (If people were truly surprised to learn that we provide workforce training in addition to basic education and English, TWC realizes there are many other services delivered that individuals are not aware of or familiar with so greater education and more awareness is needed.)
  • Takeaway 3 – Expand VR Awareness: There is a need for greater discussion regarding the partnerships developed with Texas Workforce Commission Vocational Rehabilitation regarding the employment of people with disabilities. This is an ongoing partnership with not only TWC Vocational Rehabilitation staff but also WSA staff in certain regions. Maximizing and leveraging partnerships and information to better serve individuals with disabilities is essential.
  • Takeaway 4 – Share Apprenticeship Best Practices: TWC heard of a greater need for development of innovative partnerships and programs through apprenticeship programs. There is a need for further discussion on shared best practices (as seen across the state) in efforts to create programs that enables individuals to obtain workplace-relevant knowledge and skills.
  • Takeaway 5 – Be Responsive to Local Business Needs:  TWC heard throughout the tour of the need to continuously create responsive programs to meet the needs of business areas visited – there is a realization that each region and city have their successes and their own needs. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. TWC needs to take time to determine local needs.
  • Takeaway 6 – Reduce Confusion Over VR Services: Because of the vast array of services offered by TWC (with each of these individual programs taken on tour), TWC is a full-service program for job seekers and employers.  Certain questions asked to full audiences came from local Work Force Solutions staff wanting to understand the services provided by the boards and how to access them for VR customers.  It demonstrates a need to educate at all levels on the full reach of TWC, boards, and their contractors. More education and awareness for VR programs is also needed. The other TWC programs are provided through grants to boards, schools, training centers etc.  VR services are provided directly to the individual with a disability. There is sometimes confusion over how VR services differentiate from other TWC services.
  • Takeaway 7 – Continue Visits with Local Stakeholders: Having traveled through six regions with TWC’s programs, TWC now has a better understanding that the true worth of the work TWC does and the programs managed that can only be fully appreciated when one is able to see the results and the impact our services our work has on the lives of people and businesses across the state.  TWC program managers must engage in field trips in the future to better understand the impact of the programs TWC manages across the state.
  • Takeaway 8 – Expand Outreach about Skills Development Fund:  Each day of the tour TWC was asked about the Skills Fund Program.  All areas and regions indicated a strong interest in the Skills Development Fund. TWC was able to discuss how it feels it has made a commitment to developing strong relationships at the local level by locating a Regional Staff person in the area. Unfortunately, TWC learned that many businesses and other partners often do not know that this person is there and that the person is a member of the state office team assigned to assist them in benefiting specifically from the programs and services TWC provides.
Director of Employer Initiatives Aaron Demerson proudly displays his “Texas is Wide Open for Business” boots.
Photo: A Boot Tour staff member’s “Texas is Wide Open for Business” boots.

More Photos from the Tour

Click on the image to navigate through the slideshow:

Texas Two Step Boot Tour

Five Ways Employers Can Use People First Language

People First Language refers to an objective and respectful way to speak about individuals with disabilities by emphasizing the person rather than the disability. A primary example includes saying “people with disabilities” rather than saying “the disabled” or “the handicapped.” By speaking and writing about the person before the disability, People First Language helps create a culture of inclusion.

Employers using People First Language in the workplace can help foster a culture of respect that supports the recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce as well as a valuable customer base.

Below are five ways employers can use People First Language in the workplace:

  • Verbally: Use People First Language when communicating verbally with employees and customers.
  • Orientation: Include information about People First Language during new employee orientation.
  • Signage: Ensure signage and other posted materials around the workplace include People First Language.
  • Communications: Incorporate People First Language in internal and external digital communications.
  • Meetings: Remind employees about People First Language during staff meetings.

People with disabilities are an underutilized and untapped segment of the workforce. Approximately 1.6 million Texans who are working age have a disability, and roughly a quarter have a bachelor’s degree or higher.1 However, only about half of people who happen to have a disability are employed.2

Did you know that 33 percent of hiring managers and executives reported that employees with disabilities stay in their jobs longer?3 And, employees with disabilities are rated by supervisors as being equally or more productive than coworkers and as achieving equal or better overall job performance.4

So how can employers tap into this large, skilled talent pool? One way is by creating a culture of inclusion by using People First Language as shown in this chart.

Say This in the Workplace Don’t Say This in the Workplace
Accessible parking, bathrooms, etc. Handicapped parking, bathrooms, etc.
Person who uses a wheelchair or a mobility chair Confined to a wheelchair; wheelchair bound
People who are blind or visually impaired The blind
Person with a learning disability Learning disabled

The Texas HireAbility campaign raises awareness about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and highlights the contributions of people with disabilities in the workforce.

The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities helps people with developmental disabilities achieve their potential for independence, productivity and integration into their communities.

1 U.S. Census Bureau, 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) 1-Year Estimates. www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/

2 U.S. Census Bureau, 2014 American Community Survey (ACS) 1-Year Estimates. www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/

3 K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability Collection, Leveling the Playing Field: Attracting, Engaging, and Advancing People with Disabilities. (2013). www.digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/edicollect/1292/

4 Center for Workforce Preparation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Disability: Dispelling the Myths – How People with Disabilities Can Meet Employer Needs. www.ohioemploymentfirst.org/up_doc/Disability_Business_Case.pdf 

New Career Initiative & Programs Prepare Students with Disabilities for Employment

1.PNGTeenagers and young adults who want to jump-start their careers can benefit from Pathways to Careers, a Texas Workforce Commission initiative to expand pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) to students with disabilities. These career-focused services will include work opportunities, such as internships, apprenticeships, summer employment and other job opportunities available throughout the school year.

The first Pathways to Careers program is Summer Earn and Learn which will launch statewide this year. The program will provide 2,000 students with disabilities with work readiness training and paid work experience. The 28 Texas Workforce Solutions Board Offices, in partnership with Texas Workforce Solutions– Vocational Rehabilitation Services (TWS-VRS) staff will implement the Summer Earn and Learn program and coordinate the skills training and paid work experience.

The Boards will identify business partners and pay the students’ wages. Local TWS-VRS offices will assist with recruiting students and providing case management services.

Workforce Solutions Gulf Coast is partnering with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to launch a Summer Earn and Learn program.

“We’re pleased to partner with HISD in providing summer jobs and career exploration for students with disabilities,” said Gulf Coast Executive Director Mike Temple.” We truly appreciate HISD’s commitment to the future for these young adults.”

Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County is partnering with its local schools and Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth to implement its summer program.

“In addition to Goodwill, other employers we’ve reached out to include CVS Pharmacy, Klein Tools and the City of Mansfield Park and Recreation” said Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County Executive Director Judy McDonald. “Helping students with disabilities gain work-related knowledge and skills is extremely important, and we want to enlist the support of as many employers as possible.”

Other Pathways to Careers programs are still in development or preparing to launch and will expand upon Pre-ETS and career-related education to students with disabilities. Read more about those programs in future editions of Solutions.

Stories of Success: Skills for Small Business

2 females freelancers-480179894.jpgThe Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Skills for Small Business program helps businesses with less than 100 employees train new workers or upgrade the skills of current workers. Since the program began, TWC has allocated $2 million in funding to support collaborations between Workforce Solutions partners and small businesses.

Small businesses account for 97% of employers in Texas. In recognition of National Small Business Week, we’re celebrating our state’s 483,430 private-sector employers with fewer than 100 employees and sharing their success stories through the training received through grants from Skills for Small Business to improve the skills of their employees and build a stronger workforce throughout the state.

Davidson Oil Company – Amarillo, TX

  • The Davidson Oil Family of Companies received a Skills for Small Business grant in partnership with Amarillo College.  By attending the project management course, project managers and team managers learned the skills needed to complete projects on time, on budget, and meet deadline goals as well as speak and understand the universal language of project management.  “We have recently successfully added a fourth and fifth entity to the Davidson Oil Family of Companies using the skills learned by participating in the market development course and several employees have also become forklift operator certified,” said Amy Ross, Learning and Development Manager at Davidson Oil.” Not only are our employees developing their own skills, which is a great engagement tool, we are seeing more productivity in our workforce, better decision making and more effective communication occurring.”

Diamond Enterprises – Ranger, TX

  • Ranger College received a Skills for Small Business grant to provide training identified by area business and industry. The training is provided at no cost to qualifying industry. Training topics may include certification-based training such as: forklift operator, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), QuickBooks, welding, machining and hydraulics. “The ability to compete for specific contracts require we provide and document required certification-based training, such as HAZMAT [hazardous material] and respiratory protection” Says Domingo Perez, CEO of Diamond P Enterprises. “Ranger College scheduled the grant-funded training in a weekend format, which allowed our employees to take advantage of the course. Gaining the HAZMAT certifications allowed us the opportunity to retain existing jobs, and add new employees. In addition, this training allows additional opportunities in today’s global market for our expansion into the distribution and warehousing for manufacturers and vendors nationwide.”

Solar CenTex – Killeen, TX

  • Solar CenTex, now a Solar Power World Top-500 national solar contractor, trained its initial workforce through a Skills for Small Business grant. Partnering with Central Texas College, Solar Centex took military veterans from the adjacent Fort Hood and trained them on basic and advanced solar photovoltaic installation skills. “I knew I had great people with the right character, but I needed to get them the right training and solar-specific skillset. The SSB [Skils for Small Business program] and Central Texas College helped us get there,” said Scot Arey, Founder and Owner of Solar Centex. “These same first-on-board employees are now our senior leaders four years in. They have continued to grow as the company has. It all started with the training they received.” Solar CenTex recently opened another office in San Angelo and is ready to use additional Skills for Small Business training to enlarge its workforce.

Through the Skills for Small Business grant program, eligible small businesses can receive up to $1,800 in training for each new worker and $900 for each existing worker for classes offered at their local community and technical college.

Employers seeking more information about the Skills for Small Business program, including applications and information about how to apply, may visit the TWC website at www.texasworkforce.org/ssb.

Significant Moments in Disability History Contribute to Employment of People with Disabilities

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has partnered with the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and the Texas Workforce Solutions board partners to launch the Texas HireAbility campaign to raise awareness about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities. The campaign was launched in October in conjunction with National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). As we end our celebration of NDEAM, we reflect on the significant moments in our history that are important to these efforts.

Many events in national and Texas state history have positively contributed to equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Disability History Timeline (1).jpg

These moments in history are significant for establishing vocational rehabilitation programs, services and policies to help people with disabilities prepare for, obtain, retain and advance in high-quality employment in Texas and across the United States.

Our efforts to raise awareness and assist individuals with disabilities as they pursue their career goals will continue through our ongoing Texas HireAbility Campaign. For more information about vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities and to learn more about the Texas HireAbility campaign, visit TXHireAbility.texasworkforce.org.

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

Five Key Facts About Hiring People with Disabilities

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 was launched in October in conjunction with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

According to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data, approximately 82,000 Texans with disabilities of working age (18-64) are actively seeking employment. Below are several key advantages for businesses looking to recruit, hire and retain these qualified Texans.

  • Studies show employees with disabilities are rated by supervisors as being equally or more productive than coworkers and as achieving equal or better overall job performance.
  • 33% of hiring managers and executives reported that employees with disabilities stay in their jobs longer. Businesses which hire employees with disabilities report increased employee retention and less absenteeism.
  • 59% of workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities cost nothing, while most others have a onetime cost of $500 or less.
  • Hiring people with disabilities does not increase a company’s workers’ compensation liability. Workers’ compensation rates are based solely on the business’ accident record and operational hazards.  Employing  workers with disabilities does not impact the rates.
  • The labor laws businesses must follow when firing underperforming employees are the same for employees with or without disabilities. These employees can be terminated when appropriate documentation is maintained to support the decision.

For more information about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, and to learn more about National Disability Employment Awareness Month, visit TXHireAbility.texasworkforce.org.

To learn how creating a culture of accessibility positively impacts business, watch and share this webinar produced by the Texas Workforce Solutions and the Texas Workforce Commission in collaboration with Seton Healthcare Family.

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

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

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.

 

Free training helps small business meet new regulations

Hamburger from Sweet's Shop
Sweet’s Shop has been serving 100 percent, old fashioned hamburgers to Snyder residents since 1954. Photo credit Sweet’s Shop Facebook page.

In 2015, Legislation relating to training courses for certain food handlers was passed in an effort to eliminate food borne illnesses. The Texas Food Establishment Rules became effective in Oct. 2015 and gave businesses one year to provide training to all food service employees.

For small businesses without a large training budget, providing the training to even a small staff can become a challenge.

However, one Snyder restaurant Sweet’s Shop, went to Western Texas College to discuss their training needs and learned about the Texas Workforce Commission’s Skills for Small Business program.

The Skills for Small Business program provides businesses with fewer than 100 employees, state-funded training to meet their business needs with an emphasis on training new workers or upgrading skills of incumbent workers.

Donna Cutler, director of Workforce Development and Continuing Education at Western Texas College, encourages small businesses to apply.

“TWC has established a very user friendly system and this program is a great way for small businesses to provide better training for their small workforce,” said Cutler.

When a qualifying small business identifies a training need, courses may be selected from classes offered at their local community or technical college.

Western Texas College worked with Sweet’s Shop to coordinate the food handling training needed for eight workers at the restaurant and provided certificates of completion.

Sweet’s Shop’s Cruz Aviles found the application process to be easy and has advice for other small businesses.

“Take advantage of this program,” said Aviles. “You will learn from it and definitely get something out of it.”

Skills for Small Business provides tuition and fees for employees who participate in an existing course applicable to a business need. Up to $1,800 may be approved for newly hired workers and existing employees may be eligible for up to $900. Newly hired workers include those who were hired within 12 months prior to receipt of the application.

Through their partnership with Western Texas College, Sweet’s Shop was able to meet the new legislation ahead of the effective date for compliance.

In addition to the food handler’s certification, Sweet’s Shop owners attended courses in marketing, Photoshop and QuickBooks.

Donna Cutler has observed how the Skills for Small Business program can make a huge impact.

“Especially on the small businesses that would really be struggling to find money for training,” said Cutler. “This program has allowed them to get the training they need at no cost.”

Small businesses are encouraged to apply directly to TWC for training approval. Employers seeking more information about the Skills for Small Business program, including applications and information about how to apply may visit the TWC website at www.texasworkforce.org/ssb.

TWC launches paperless unemployment claim correspondence for employers

Stay on top of your unemployment claim correspondence with Electronic Correspondence for Employers with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). TWC Employer Benefits Services now offers a secure online mailbox for quick and easy access to unemployment claim documents.

small business owners
small business owners

Using your Employer Benefits Services account, you can have:

  • 24-7 access – online access to claim documents anytime from a secure inbox
  • Secure access – one administrator controls access and permission levels for multiple users
  • Faster processing – maximize response time to deadlines on multiple unemployment claims

Employers can go paperless by signing up to receive Unemployment Claim correspondence electronically, instead of through postal mail service.

For online access to unemployment claim correspondence, sign up for Electronic Correspondence using our new Employer Benefits Services system. Electronic Correspondence allows you to receive most, but not all, of the unemployment claim notices concerning your TWC account, such as the Notice of Unemployment Claim Application, claim determinations and chargeback forms. Employers must have a TWC tax account number to register for this service.

At this time, TWC must continue to use postal mail to send the following documents to employers:

  • Appeals correspondence, such as hearing notices or appeal decisions
  • Tax correspondence, such as status change forms, and adjustment reports

To sign up for this convenient service, go to the Employer Benefits Services webpage. You can also obtain helpful information on How to Use Employer Benefits Services or view the Tutorial on Electronic Correspondence.