As Austin-area unemployment rate ticks up, Workforce Solutions wants to train people for expected 2021 jobs

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — New numbers from the Texas Workforce Commission indicate more than 74,000 people in the Austin area lost their jobs between October and November.

That includes Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson Counties.

Lindsay Ehsai is concerned she might join those ranks next month.

“It’s been kind of trying to stay afloat,” she said of the last nine months.

Ehsai, who lives in Kyle, works at a local engineering firm.

Even when her office opened back up after mandatory shutdowns, she decided to keep trying to work from home because she has Lupus, an autoimmune disease that may make her more at-risk for COVID-19.

“If I get sick, then what’s going to happen to me? I might not make it. So, it wasn’t worth it to me,” Ehsai says.

She faced cutbacks in hours and pay and went from living comfortably with savings last year to now living paycheck-to-paycheck. And in a couple of weeks, she’ll be out of that job, completely.

“Before COVID, we didn’t have problems. We had lots of work—in fact, we had too much. And now all of a sudden, there’s not enough.”

She’s sending out applications, hoping to avoid becoming a pandemic statistic.

“I’m trying to eliminate the need to file for unemployment by being very proactive in my job search,” Ehsai said.

“We look nine months into the pandemic, and we are still two times the level of unemployment we were pre COVID,” said Tamara Atkinson, CEO of Workforce Solutions Capital Area.

This data compiled by Workforce Solutions breaks down unemployment rates for October and November in 2019 and 2020. (Courtesy Workforce Solutions Capital Area)

Atkinson says although unemployment rates aren’t as bad as the double-digits they saw in the spring, they expect a spike as federal benefits are set to expire next week—unless Congress passes another COVID-19 relief bill.

“We are worried about what would happen if there is not an extension of the unemployment insurance after next week. That’s when so many people stop receiving additional benefits,” Atkinson said.

But some sectors, she says, have thrived during the pandemic.

“The good news is even in COVID we’ve seen strong demand in IT and health care to hire workers, and we continue to see strong growth in construction and advanced manufacturing,” she said.

Workforce Solutions is now trying to get people employed in those industries through a program called Re: Work Now.

“This is an opportunity for eligible individuals to receive no-cost tuition and training and stipends to help people train in a virtual or hybrid area,” Atkinson explained.

She says the goal is to get more Austinites to be able to compete for openings in the new year.

“We know Tesla is going to be coming to our region in the new year. With Oracle moving its headquarters here, with Tata Consultancy growing in the IT space, and then you think about all the other companies that support these big anchor companies, we know there’s going to be tremendous job opportunity,” Atkinson said.

The program is enrolling now. Atkinson says they hope to have at least 260 students and 80 have signed up, so far. Childcare and transportation may also be available.

Ehsai thinks that might benefit her as soon as she can land a job.

“My thing with that is I still have bills while going to school, and those don’t just go away because I’m taking classes,” she said. “I just need someone to give me a freaking job. Excuse my language.”

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