Groups training 10,000 workers for better-paying jobs as Austin grows

Austin
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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A class of future electricians graduating Monday will have to complete a triathlon of various electrical skills challenges to become new additions to the skilled workforce.

The students have been preparing for the triathlon and graduation for the last four weeks. The nonprofit Skillpoint Alliance started the electrician skills classes at the beginning of this year as part of the Austin Metro Area Master Community Workforce Plan, launched a year ago to train 10,000 workers for better-paying jobs.

It’s one step in addressing the area’s affordability problem. 

Around Austin, the stakeholders who developed the plan, including local companies and governments, anticipate the need for 60,000 new skilled workers by 2021.

The group, led by Workforce Solutions Capital Area, wants to fill one-sixth of those jobs with people who are making less than twice the federal poverty level — about $24,000 for individuals and about $50,000 for a family of four.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to negotiate a slightly higher pay grade with this training under my belt,” said Tim Matthes, one of the Skillpoint students competing in Monday’s triathlon. It’s getting harder to afford living in Austin, Matthes said, and he hopes becoming an electrician will provide him a path to financial stability.

Like most of the students who take the class, he’s able to do so for free to financial need based on the same income requirements as the workforce plan. “It’s really great,” he said, “as I’m broke.”

Alan Wilson is the instructor for the skills class and developed the curriculum along with contractors who might one day hire the students he’s churning out. 

Monday’s triathlon is those employers’ first shot to scoop up possible apprentices. Contractors serve as judges for the event that functions in some cases as the first step in a job interview.

Wilson said the seven students graduating this week brings their total for the year to 33. It’s a first step, he said, to solving the worker shortage employers are seeing. 

“Too many people are retiring and not enough people are entering the workforce,” he said.

The electrician course can handle about 80 people a year. Combined with Skillpoint Alliance’s other introductory classes for plumbing, HVAC, and other trades, and combined with the other companies that are providing training as part of the workforce plan, the instructors hope to hit that 2021 goal.

Cesiah Kessler, board chair for Workforce Solutions Capital Area, said the first year of the workforce plan has been about developing relationships with companies and nonprofits like Skillpoint Alliance to develop the kinds of training that will help hit the plan’s targets.

Stakeholders have raised $1.2 million since last summer from industry and city and county government to help fund training. Kessler said they plan to release a report in September detailing what they’ve learned over the last year about where the needs lie and how best to achieve their employment goals.

Wilson’s goal is smaller-scale: he wants his students to graduate ready to hit the ground running as an apprentice, a career track that can provide a salary of up to $65,000 within a few years.

“It’s going to feed you, it’s going to feed your family, it’s going to feed your kids,” he said.

Matthes doesn’t have children, at least not yet, but he hopes to be a success story for his possible future family. In the meantime, the bigger paycheck will fill more immediate needs.

“It’s going to help me be able to pay rent,” he said.

Skillpoint Alliance boasts an employment rate of 87 percent among students who finish the program. The skills triathlon happens Monday at 10 a.m.

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