According to the most recent report from the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Austin’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 2.7% as of July, sustaining at a level that is near record lows.
With the local economy booming, Austin Community College president Richard Rhodes said his challenge is not finding companies in the Austin area looking to hire ACC students. Rather, it’s building programs that do not force students into a choice of either continuing to work in order to make a living or going to school to enhance their skills, their career opportunities and their economic prospects.
“The major issue is actually getting the students who are working, so it’s a time commitment. Life is happening to them. They may be married, have a family; they may have to put food on the table,” Rhodes said. “How do they position themselves to do both? The best way to do that is to have a career pathway internship apprenticeship available for them.”
On Aug. 21, ACC announced a new apprenticeship program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor that will help students develop skills in the information technology field without having to give up a paycheck.
The Department of Labor awarded a $12 million grant to four community colleges in Texas to fund information technology apprenticeship positions. ACC’s piece of that grant will be $1.5 million, and according to Rhodes it will fund 350 apprenticeship positions over the course of four years.
IBM will be one of the industry partners providing work experience for ACC students. Dexter Henderson, IBM’s senior location executive and vice president, said he wants to employ as many of those 350 positions as possible to make Austin the top IBM campus in the country for apprenticeships.
According to Henderson, a large number of jobs in Austin at IBM do not require four-year degrees, and the company is changing its approach in filling some of its openings for highly skilled candidates in order to hire the number of employees it needs.
“As you look at some of the skill gaps we’re having, we’re finding out we can go back and get [candidates with]two-year associates degrees and train them, customize the training working closely with someone like ACC, to where now we can fill a lot of gaps we have from a technology standpoint,” Henderson said.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin and Austin Mayor Steve Adler both attended the Aug. 21 announcement of the grant. Doggett said he would do everything in his power to make federal programs flexible and available to organizations such as ACC and Workforce Solutions Capital Area that are doing the work locally to fill the skills gap. Adler said ACC is at the nexus of the Austin community’s greatest challenges: mobility, equity and the workforce. He pointed to the billions of dollars in city bonds recently passed and the scarcity of labor to fulfill those contracts.
“We’re going to have in this city such demand [for labor], and we will either import that workforce into our city, exacerbating a lot of the challenges we have, or we’re going to grow it here,” Adler said.