AUSTIN, Texas — “You use a lot of different muscles,” Justin Dabney said as he bent a metal pipe to run electrical wires.
Dabney lost his job.
The COVID-19 pandemic put him in the unemployment line.
“It was a major downturn, and here I am,” Dabney said.
He is one of several men taking an electrical course through Skillpoint Alliance.
Skillpoint Alliance is a nonprofit skilled trades and manufacturing program. The program partnered with Workforce Solutions Capital Area, City of Austin and Travis County in the Re:WorkNOW program.
The program uses Red Kite to help applicants match skills to a new career. Workforce Solutions Capital Area helps the applicant find the right school.
The idea is part of the Austin Metro Community Workforce Plan, which would help 10,000 people get jobs paying more than $40,000 a year.
Phase 1 of the plan was approved by Travis County and the City of Austin in October 2020, which costs $3.1 million.
Re:WorkNOW is focused on four key industry sectors that really are the workhorse industry sectors of Central Texas: information technology, health care, advanced manufacturing and skilled trades.
"We're offering rapid digital safe skills training in those four industry areas so that people can quickly get the skills to get back to work,” Tamara Atkinson, chief executive officer of Workforce Solutions Capital Area said.
Leandro Tavares lost his job in the hospitality industry.
“So, I decided to go for electrical,” Tavares said.
Ricardo Gill worked in the oil fields and is from Austin.
“I lost my job in April and needed to find something,” Gill said.
Brandon Sutton’s said his reason for taking the class was for another person in his life.
“My daughter. She’s my biggest motivation,” Sutton said.
Oston Wicker once worked in construction with his uncle. Wicker said he liked the idea of electrical work.
“It's a lot of hands-on. I like it,” Wicker said.
Central Texas employers need entry-level electricians. This class will have the men ready to test for their apprenticeship license.
“The intention is when we send these students to their apprenticeships, they have a leg up on others because they know how to install all the basic electrical components on a job site,” Matthew Singer, an instructor, said.
The Skillpoint Alliance electrician class runs four weeks.
“If history is any indicator, most of our students will get jobs right out of the gate,” Kevin Brackmeyer, Skillpoint Alliance executive director said.
Local employers will attend the class graduation, which will be held on Zoom.
“We've had an employer hire everybody on the spot one time,” Brackmeyer said.
Brackmeyer said the program usually costs $4,000 to $6,000. It’s free for anyone who lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In order to qualify for Re:WorkNOW, you do need to show that you've been COVID-impacted, so that you have lost your job as a result of COVID. Unfortunately, there are so many people in our community that fit that description. So we know that we are able to help hundreds of people if they will come to Workforce Solutions,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson said Workforce Solutions must show the taxpayer money went to help someone impacted by the pandemic.
“Receiving unemployment insurance is one of the ways that someone can very easily show that they've been covered, impacted and work for solutions. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to verify their eligibility. We are using public funds. So as good stewards, we do need to document that those funds are used well,” Atkinson said.
The Re:WorkNOW program can pay a student up to $200 per week to get training.
“We are going to look overall at someone's income level, but again, we are erring on the side of being as generous as possible because this is about helping our neighbors be able to have what they need to make ends meet, and then be able to support themselves through that next better job. So we really have made this as generous and as easy as we possibly can,” Atkinson said.
Workforce Solutions has programs to cover childcare and transportation costs, if needed.
Back in class, a camera points out to the room.
“Go to that switch box,” Singer said towards the computer.
Re:WorkNOW is geared for virtual learning, and Skillpoint Alliance sends each student home with a kit.
“I don't have as much space in my house. I can do it on my balcony,” Diego Carbajal, an online student said.
The kit includes all items a student would use in class, including conduit benders, gloves, work belt and the 2020 National Electrical Code book.
“Well, I learned really well from the instructor, and I was able to do it by myself,” Carbajal said.
“Life hits you. This is really about, you know, creating opportunities that are available for everyone out there,” Brackmeyer said.
Singer’s class will graduate soon.
The Re:WorkNOW program will end when it reaches 260 people. In order for Re:WorkNOW to continue, Workforce Solution Capital Area’s website shows $67 million would be needed to “ make a dramatic impact sufficient to help thousands of additional local people who have lost jobs amid the pandemic to train and start a new career.”
The local development board says it would take federal, state and local stimulus money to fund Phase 2.
Fewer than 150 spots remain.
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