Published Jul 15, 2020 by Susan Moore
With the number of Texans filing for unemployment insurance skyrocketing in March and April, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) was charged with exploring ways to use available funds to help individuals and businesses effected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In April, TWC announced $10 million would be available through the Skills Development Fund to support training for existing workers and new hires of businesses impacted by COVID-19. This COVID-19 special initiative focuses on supporting local skills training for these employers in partnership with community colleges or local workforce board (and third-party training providers).
Following the roll out of the Skills Development Fund Special Training Initiative, TWC established a new statewide, online skills enhancement project for individuals receiving unemployment benefits, in June.
Courtney Arbour, director of TWC’s Workforce Development Division, and Dale A Robertson, interim director of TWC’s Office of Employer Initiatives joined an UpSkill Works Forum to discuss the new initiatives and opportunities for employers and individuals on July 9. The Forum was hosted by Peter Beard, Greater Houston Partnership senior vice president of Regional Workforce Development. A recording of their conversation is available on YouTube.
“Given all the changes in the economy, the more information we can get out to people and the more we can encourage them to seize this opportunity to increase their skills to help them to enter their next job, the better,” Arbour said.
Workforce Training Funds Made Easier
TWC made $10 million available through its existing Skills Development Fund program to support training programs for employers impacted by COVID-19 which is intended to help current employees, new hires or furloughed employees gain new skills needed by the employer.
“The impetus was COVID-19, to move really fast, to make funding available to a local communities across the state, and to address the needs of businesses and workers to help our economy rebound as quickly as possible during and post-COVID-19,” Robertson said.
The program offers an easy application process for workforce boards and community colleges and a simple process for businesses to partner with those entities to identify workers who need training.
Roughly 50 workforce boards and community colleges across the state have already become fund grantees. Locally, grantee partners include Houston Community College, Galveston Community College, Lone Star College, San Jacinto College, Texas State Technical College – Ft. Bend, and Wharton Junior College.
The special initiative eliminates the Skills Development Fund’s usual six-month waiting period between applications, Robertson said. The special initiative also provides up to $250,000 to colleges and workforce boards to support the training needs of employers in their area. Under this initiative businesses can also provide most, if not all, of the training needed by their employees. The college or board grantee will facilitate the provision of training to ensure that it’s approvable.
Businesses effected by COVID-19 and those with in-demand jobs may participate in the Skills COVID-19 Special Training Initiative.
Online Skills Enhancement Open to All Texas Claimants
Expanding the rapid skills enhancement opportunities to include eligible workers as well as individuals receiving unemployment benefits was done in order to bring training to the largest number of people as quickly as possible, Arbour said. This online training will be open to every claimant in Texas, she said.
The skills enhancement project will provide access to thousands of online courses through the popular Coursera and Metrix Learning platforms. Individuals receiving unemployment benefits will have access to these courses via email in the next week, Arbour said.
Arbour said local workforce offices will keep in touch with claimants to help guide them through the courses.
Urgent Need for Upskilling
Robertson and Arbour briefly highlighted recent labor market data, reporting an increase in job postings for positions in health care, logistics and retail, but also for ones in software development and other computer-related occupations with the caveat that the postings may represent jobs needed now or in the more distant future.
They also noted an increasing demand for individuals to enhance their digital skills – a demand made more urgent by the transition to remote work amid the pandemic. The pace of change will only grow faster, Arbour said, adding that individuals need to be willing to keep learning and growing.
Now is a good time for individuals to upskill, she said.
“Some people are in lifeboat jobs. This is an opportunity to get out of the lifeboat into a bigger boat,” Arbour said. “It's a good time, when people are in between jobs, to take – especially – no cost resources and get in there and learn what they can to make them a strong candidate for the next job.”
The UpSkill Works Forum Series presents interviews with business and community leaders, policy makers, and leading thinkers on the key workforce issues our region confronts. View recordings of the complete series on YouTube.