Typically, when you land your first serious job you feel grateful someone wants to hire you—even if your salary requirements and expectations aren’t all that incredibly high.
Also, typically, when you hear the term ‘bootcamp,’ connotations of rough military training, heavy boots, intense drills, camouflaged faces and threatening drill sergeants come to mind.
When Jared Stephens attended his first bootcamp in Mission, Texas June 2017—there were no hard boots or roaring drill sergeants. In fact, the experience was entirely pleasant and life changing—enough to later catapult him to a position on an international cyber team with a leading Fortune 500 company.
“I didn’t know I could get paid to be a hacker one day,” said Jared. “In fact, I didn’t know there were jobs such as ethical hacker and penetration tester in cybersecurity. I now know the certification the bootcamp offered makes a difference to the international clients we work with.”
In an industry that is growing exponentially, in retrospect, if Stephens is testimony to anything it’s that cybersecurity bootcamps can potentially solve the problem of a severe shortage of core technology workers in cybersecurity IT and advance your career.
Today, employers across Texas and the United States are seeking thousands of core technology workers in cybersecurity to fill current and future staffing needs. In 2016, tech industry employment in Texas grew by more than 11,000 jobs, according to CompTIA’s Cyberstates 2017 report. Even with this new hiring, employers posted job openings for more than 42,600 tech occupations in Q4 2016.
In 2017, the U.S. employed almost 780,000 people in cybersecurity positions, and hosted approximately 350,000 cybersecurity openings, according to CyberSeek, a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
According to the Labor Market and Career website, information security analysts’ employment rate is expected to increase in Texas by 32 percent and the average annual Texas wages is $92,891. Move to the Capital Area, Rural Capital, Deep East Texas or the Gulf Coast and that salary average increases to $100,000 plus.
After bootcamp and certification, Jared Stephens received an offer letter from Booz Allen Hamilton in March 23, 2018. It read, “At Booz Allen Hamilton, we’ve got a lot of technology, talent and resources, but we’re missing something. You.” Stephens was offered a full-time senior consultant position in San Diego, California as a Cybersecurity Tester with a handsome compensatory starting salary, and told that he would be “an essential part of [their] mission to leave the world a better place.”
How did 24-year-old Jared Stephens find himself in the lucrative field of a cybersecurity IT related career? The answer lies partially in a cybersecurity bootcamp connected to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).
In Summer 2017, Jared attended a cyber bootcamp connected to a High Demand Job Training (HDJT) state grant provided by the Mission Economic Development Corporation (Mission EDC) in partnership with Workforce Solutions, the local workforce development board (WFS), CompTIA and TWC. This grant was part of a statewide effort to support collaborations between Workforce Solutions partners and local economic development entities to create occupational job training programs to improve the skill sets of individuals for jobs in high-demand occupations in Texas communities.
“This bootcamp was focused on filling a need in professional certification of IT workers in cybersecurity,” said Alex Meade, Mission EDC CEO. “The demand for certified workers encompassed and continues to encompass all industries in IT departments and companies that provide IT services to businesses both large and small.”
Obviously, there was a recognized need to provide the availability of IT related bootcamps to residents in the Rio Grande Valley. This partnership program provided a total of 40 participants who met WIOA basic eligibility requirements with a rigorous 8-week cybersecurity bootcamp utilizing a new partnership with CompTIA.
“This kind of collaboration provides high-tech customized training for high-demand cybersecurity careers while increasing business’ competitiveness in the global market,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez. “I couldn’t be happier for Jared Stephens, and his cohort. He’s a credit to the program and a testimony that camps like this really do work. I look forward to eventually meeting more individuals like Jared who have been given the same chance and opportunities in other cities along the border.”
Jared’s real interest and passion for cybersecurity and coding, meanwhile, started with video games and a game entitled ‘Call of Duty.’ It was through ‘Call of Duty’ that Jared first witnessed unethical behavior, adversaries and computer hacking. He wondered what else one could do with signed code?
“I observed what these hackers were doing and wondered how they were doing what they were doing,” said Jared.
It would lead to his becoming a Computer Science college major for a period at Texas A&M in 2012.
Though he left college before graduating, he remembered his “Call of Duty” days and unethical hacker friends and was determined he could make a lot of money writing code and program—which led him to major in Computer Science and minor in Physics. Having left college without a final degree, Jared eventually applied to bootcamp to gain the certification he knew would help his own sense of duty.
Certification does matter. As part of the summer boot program, Jared and his cohorts completed a series of CompTIA vendor-neutral skills certifications for technology professionals that are widely sought after by companies all over the United States and the world. All cohorts and participants received the CompTIA series of professional certifications, including A+, Network+, Security+, and Cybersecurity Analyst+ certifications at graduation which ensures they are more than a little marketable.
One grant, multiple benefiters. There were 39 other fellow classmates who benefited from the grants. Jared stated that one of his fellow cohorts—Amy Martínez-Nagy—who he has remained friends with—also started as a vivid enthusiast of video games as he did.
“Initially, Amy struggled in bootcamp at the beginning because most of it was new to her,” Jared stated. “She never had any cybersecurity experience previous like I did, but now she works for the City of San Juan in IT as a Level II specialist. This camp was really great for her.”
As cybersecurity threats grow both in numbers and in risks they pose to organizations, the plan is to help build capacity in South Texas so that future cybersecurity certification boot camps such as this one may continue.
All we can say is we’re impressed with Jared Stephens and with these grants that support organizations like Mission EDC and CompTIA—where do we sign up?
“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.”
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.
Why Did We Go?
Listen and learn from rural communities. Allow stakeholders to tell their stories, share their struggles and their successes.
Build strong relationships with rural communities and determine how to work together as a team with workforce development and training services in mind.
Educate on our workforce and training program staff, generate new interest from individuals we might not normally hear from, and bring better services.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
“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
The Boot Tour team visited Workforce Solutions Alamo on day four and hosted a listening session and invitation for questions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The final day of the Boot Tour culminated in a listening session with Workforce Solutions Capital Area staff and local 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.”
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.
More Photos from the Tour
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As students in high school and college begin their search for internships for the summer and fall, Texas’ Tri-Agency partners continue their work through the “Texas Internship Challenge” to help bolster the opportunities available for young people.
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) joined forces to establish the Texas Internship Challenge, a statewide campaign first launched in 2017 and now relaunched in 2018, challenging industry and employer partners to increase and promote more paid internships for Texas students.
The program also challenges Texas colleges and universities to grant academic credit for and promote internships to students, and challenges students to apply for and accept internships.
TWC has created a website, TXInternshipChallenge.com, where employers can post internships and students can apply for them at no cost.
“Internships provide invaluable mentoring which positions our students for future success by increasing their skills, awareness and work-readiness for Texas careers,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar. “Internships present employers with a unique opportunity to raise students’ understanding of their industry and can serve as a launch point for recruiting a future worker. I challenge Texas employers to join the Texas Internship Challenge and help the future Texas workforce understand the broad range of occupations available to them in the Texas economy.”
Through the Texas Internship Challenge, the Tri-Agency partners are addressing a workforce need which it has heard frequently from employers: That students need to learn/acquire workplace skills. Internships help students learn workplace skills, introduce and expose students to the state’s in-demand industries, and help students be more competitive for a job search. One of the four goals of the state’s 60x30TX strategic plan for higher education is for students to have identified marketable skills. These skills are acquired by students through education, including curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities such as internships.
Employers gain potential full-time employees that can be recruited directly from qualified interns, as well as exposure for their company and their industry’s in-demand occupations. Internships have become an important part of upward mobility for future job seekers—60 percent of employers prefer work experience gained through an internship or professional experience.
On Feb. 5, the Tri-Agency partners met in Austin with industry and education stakeholders to discuss expansion strategies for the Texas Internship Challenge. Chairman Alcantar, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth Ruggero Hughs and TWC Labor Commissioner Julian Alvarez were joined by executives from Lockheed Martin Corporation, Accenture, JPMorgan Chase, among other industry and education leaders to discuss specific goals on internship expansion strategies, which include stressing the importance of internships, examining different strategies to grow internships and listening to ways the program can expand outreach.
“We must ensure that every child leaves high school prepared for success, whether they choose to attend college, enroll in the military or enter the career field,” said Commissioner Morath. “The Texas Internship Challenge provides every high school student in Texas the stepping stone to a bright future of opportunities.”
“Working with the business community to create more paid internship opportunities is one of the most promising strategies we can offer for students, especially for the more than 60 percent of poor kids in Texas,” said Commissioner Paredes. “These students have to earn income to make their way through college. Paid internships get them into business networks, help them find a job after college, and help them acquire the marketable skills they need to get those jobs. This supports our 60x30TX marketable skills and student debt goals, and enables Texas employers to promote jobs in their industries to our future workforce.”
“In our meetings across the state employers expressed the need to have a talent pipeline equipped with work-based learning experiences. Internships will prepare students with skills to meet the demands of the 21st Century,” said Commissioner Hughs. “I applaud and continue to challenge Texas employers in helping the future Texas workforce understand the broad range of opportunities available to them in a growing Texas economy.”
“Internships not only provide important work and life experiences for students, but also set them up for future workplace success,” said Commissioner Alvarez. “The Texas Internship Challenge will help link learning in the classroom, create relevance between the different subjects studied, and help all students develop the skills required for future occupations.”
The agencies encourage internship programs as a bridge for students to explore in-demand industries and occupations. Students will benefit from mentoring, career guidance, identification of marketable skills, and learn about high-demand occupations. Employers will benefit from the opportunity to explore candidates for full-time recruitment and leverage the developing skill sets and perspectives of students, while also highlighting careers in their industries.
Project SEARCH at Seton Healthcare Family, part of Ascension, is a business led workforce development effort which successfully prepares and trains individuals with intellectual disabilities for competitive employment. Through yearlong internships, individuals build marketable vocational skills in three areas of the hospital which allows for seamless and total immersion in the workplace.
For the past 10 years, Project SEARCH at Seton has developed strong community collaborations between business, school districts, vocational rehabilitation agencies and other disability service providers all with the same goal of competitive employment for each Project SEARCH participant.
Project SEARCH at Seton collaborated with Texas Workforce Commission on a video demonstrating the benefits of hiring individuals with unique skill sets. In the video, Seton executives discuss the importance of recruiting and retaining a workforce that reflects the community they serve. To date, Seton has a return on investment of about 1.8 million dollars in terms of productive time from Project SEARCH interns over the past 10 years.
For Project SEARCH graduates, this experience is an opportunity to build essential vocational skills in a critical care setting while leveraging their talents. From 2007-2016, Project SEARCH at Seton has graduated 158 interns. Of those graduates, 91 percent transitioned into competitive employment either at Seton or in the community. This is an outstanding result compared to the national unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities, which is over twice the unemployment rate for individuals without disabilities.
Our video profiles three employees, Naomi, Sabrina and Daniel, who discuss how employment through Project SEARCH at Seton has impacted their lives, launched their careers, and ultimately, provided an opportunity for them to play a vital role in healthcare delivery throughout Central Texas.
Texas Workforce Commission is partnering with the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and the Texas Workforce Solutions network for a campaign called Texas HireAbility to raise awareness about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) recently announced the award of over $1 million to support four new accelerated certificate or degree programs through its College Credit for Heroes (CCH) program, a statewide effort designed to maximize the award of college credit to veterans and service members for their military experience.
Since the program’s inception, more than 85,000 veterans have created accounts at CollegeCreditforHeroes.org. An estimated 27,000 veterans have received evaluations with an average of 16 credit hours awarded per student from participating colleges and universities.
Nick St. Clair served as a medical specialist, practical nurse and field artillery officer in the U.S. Army. After leaving the service, he applied for the nursing school program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC), a College Credit for Heroes partner school, and was referred to the program. St. Clair was awarded nine service credit hours and used the credit to obtain his Bachelor of Science in nursing in 2016.
“I began my adult life as a medic, practical nurse and hospital educator in the Army and absolutely loved it,” said St. Clair. “After some time away from patients, I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to return to my first professional love.”
St. Clair is currently employed as a registered nurse at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. He credits his success to the College Credit for Heroes program and TTUHSC’s unique program for veterans with his military background.
“With the College Credit for Heroes grant, the university created the Veteran to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (VBSN) track, an accelerated program for veterans with prior military medical training and experiences who want to obtain a nursing degree,” said TTUHSC VBSN Director Debbie Sikes.
“Nick was among our first VBSN graduating class, which included six other students. Success of the VBSN track was demonstrated by all seven students passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) on their first attempt and becoming employed as registered nurses,” she said.
New 2017 programs that received funding through College Credit for Heroes
Dallas County Community College District — $262,977 to develop the Veterans Education Transition program, designed to create an accelerated transition to a civilian career by replicating existing programs developed by Grayson College and Lee College.
Houston Community College — $472,687 to develop a veterans academy for veterans and service members to assess prior military experiences and provide employment.
Lee College — $145,457 to establish an accelerated emergency medical technician program.
Texas State University — $145,495 to create Accelerate TXState, an online prior learning assessment curriculum
Having an emotional support animal is one of the most popular reasonable accommodation requests. Recently, a graduate student at Houston Baptist University requested to have his emotional support animal with him in his on-campus apartment and on campus to help him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
The student submitted paperwork from his therapist to support the request. Two days later the request was denied. After the denial, the student was charged with pet deposit fees. Emotional support animals are not pets. They provide individuals with the emotional support to help them cope. Pet fees cannot be charged for emotional support animals .
When making a decision to grant permission for an emotional support animal, housing providers should consider the following questions:
Does the tenant have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
Does the tenant making the request have a disability-related need for an emotional support animal?
Is there evidence the specific animal has caused a direct threat of harm to someone or substantial physical damage to someone’s property that could not be reduced or eliminated by another accommodation?
Just in time for graduation, college officials agreed to pay back the pet fees the student paid out of fear of not graduating and to have staff take part in a Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division reasonable accommodation webinar.
For more information about fair housing rights and responsibilities and fair housing training, go to the webpage of the Civil Rights Division at www.texasworkforce.org/civilrights.
Thousands of students across Texas now have an opportunity to receive training, with access to high-tech equipment, for a career in a high-growth occupation. In April, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) announced the availability of $10 million in funding from the Texas Legislature for the Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grant program during the 2016-17 biennium.
Recently, TWC awarded 25 grants totaling nearly $5 million for the first round of funding to public community and technical colleges and independent school districts for programs that focus on supporting high-demand occupations in new emerging industries.
Qualifying educational institutions were selected among grant applicants for the development of programs or courses leading to a license, certificate or postsecondary degree for students in their communities.
“I congratulate these JET grant recipients as they work to enhance educational curricula and high-demand job training for our students,” said TWC Chairman Andres Alcantar, who chairs the JET Advisory Board. “As they make the transition into the workforce, it is crucial that students have the education and skills to succeed in the workplace.”
The Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District (HCISD) was among the awardees and received almost $300,000 towards the upgrade of class equipment to meet automobile industry standards. HCISD can now offer students a new opportunity to gain relevant certifications and college credit towards an associate degree in the auto collision field.
“Our auto collision and repair courses housed at Harlingen High School are going to see major improvements with the purchase of updated equipment,” said Jessica Hruska, special projects and grants specialist with Harlingen Public Schools.
The JET grant awarded to Angelina College (AC) will allow the college to purchase new equipment to be used in welding classes for AC’s welding technology associate degree and certificate programs.
The purchase of the new equipment will allow AC to increase enrollment from 16 to 20 students per welding class on its main campus in Lufkin. The JET funds will allow 40 more students, per semester, to enroll in welding courses.
“By increasing the number of machines in the welding lab, we are able to help more students each year, and this is our goal,” said Janice Huffman, workforce development coordinator at Angelina College. “These courses are in great demand because of the need for welders in the East Texas region.”
The new equipment funded through the grant will be in place and ready for use for the spring 2017 semester. High school students in the Angeline College service area are able to earn a Level 1 Basic Certificate in Welding Technology while they attend high school. Upon graduating, those students will have the basic skills needed for entry-level employment or they can continue skills training toward an intermediate welding certificate and/or pursue an Associate of Applied Science Degree in welding.
The JET Advisory Board assists TWC in administering the grants. The six-member board meets at least once each quarter, or as needed, to review applications and make recommendations on grant awards.
“It is amazing…the quality applicants the JET program receives through its grant solicitations. School districts, community colleges and institutes of technology across our state have jumped at the opportunity to apply for these much needed funds,” said JET advisory board member Tony Fidelie. “With programs ranging from nursing, to web development to welding, countless students across Texas are going to have the opportunity to be trained for good paying, stable jobs.”
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 WorkInTexas.com 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 WorkInTexas.com,” 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.
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:
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.
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 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.
When 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 WorkInTexas.com 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.