Workforce board aims to create ‘master plan’ for workforce development

Travis County is home to dozens of workforce development and training programs, but they share no formal collaboration to help align their efforts.

A new initiative prompted by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and county Judge Sarah Eckhardt will try to change that.

At the request of the mayor and county judge, the Workforce Solutions Capital Area Workforce Board will launch a collaborative process to develop the county’s first “master plan” for workforce development, the board said Tuesday.

The effort aims to bring together most of Travis County’s various workforce development organizations to identify shared goals, coordinate efforts toward those targets and develop a common foundation for measuring their collective success.

“This is not anybody looking to take over or to tell someone how to do their business,” said Alan Miller, executive director at Workforce Solutions. “It’s about how we better connect and align the work we do and leverage all the available resources in our community.”

The city, county and workforce board each contribute money to some of the same local workforce development efforts, for example, but their processes run independently of one another.

The master plan wouldn’t try to create a single oversight entity to combine those processes, Miller said. Rather, it would seek to identify how those efforts can be made more compatible — using the same set of performance measures, for example, or targeting the same at-risk populations.

“There are so many great workforce development organizations and programs in Austin and Travis County,” Adler said in Tuesday’s news release, “but we must find ways to bring them to scale so that more of our neighbors have the skills to fill the thousands of good jobs being created in our community.”

Employers in the Austin metro area added almost 35,000 jobs last year, growth of 3.8 percent, according to preliminary data from the Texas Workforce Commission. But even as local employers added to their payrolls, a growing skills gap has kept many local residents from landing those jobs, Miller said.

As of December, almost 19,500 Travis County residents were out of work but actively seeking employment, according to the workforce board, and a similar number of workers were underemployed, many of them working one or more part-time jobs.

“How do we grow our own to ensure that people who live here have the talents they need to qualify for all the high skill, high demand jobs that are coming here?” Miller said. “How do we do a better job of helping people benefit from the prosperity that’s going on?”

In recent years, local public officials have started to stress the divides in the Austin metro area and what it might mean for the regional economy. A study released last year found Austin was the most economically segregated large metro in the country.

“We have to find innovative, collaborative solutions to providing increased access and opportunity to job training and employment services, especially for the most vulnerable populations in our community,” Eckhardt said.

Officials said they hope the master plan will tap into the existing resources and expertise at agencies around the county.

Miller expects to save some time by incorporating resources and programs already in place, but he said the process will take about six months as the “wide net” of organizations come together and start hammering out details of a first draft plan.

The result will include some additional costs — perhaps to fund a shared database of clients and performance measures, for example — but the final bill won’t be known until the details of the plan emerge.

Miller said the city, county and workforce board will cover those costs.

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