A CITY WORKFORCE PROGRAM THAT PAYS FOR ITSELF
San Antonio is the third fastest growing city in America (after Fort Worth and Phoenix), and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many of the city’s employers are hungry for skilled new workers to keep up with demand. In September alone, there were some 20,000 job openings posted in the city with especially intense pressure in fields like finance, health care, IT, sales, and the skilled trades. That’s more than the entire population of Augusta, Maine, that state’s capital.
Enter the city’s Workforce Development Office’s Ready to Work initiative and the national nonprofit Social Finance which works with public, private and social sectors to help build innovative partnerships and investments. Just one week ago, they announced the launch of a pilot for an innovative internship program that aims to help local businesses hire residents of San Antonio for full-time roles. Creators of the program, which is called “Pay It Forward”, hope that it will ultimately place up to 200 people in good jobs, with the potential to scale over time.
It will work this way: Participants are to be drawn from graduates of the city’s Ready to Work program, a $180 million effort to provide low and no-cost training to more than 15,000 residents. Trainees will be matched with local employers, who will engage them in six-week internships, with their wages paid by the Workforce Development Office.
But this is not designed to work like other subsidies in which the money only flows one way. In this case, when the employers hire participants who have successfully completed the internship for full time jobs (which is, of course, the goal) the employers repay the internship salary. These funds will go back into the pot to provide the program with the cash it needs to keep providing internships like this into the future. That’s why the program is called “Pay it Forward.”
"This program introduces a more sustainable approach to funding workforce development,” Jake Segal, Managing Director of Impact Advisory at Social Finance, was quoted as saying in a November 14 press release. “Taxpayers are taking on the upfront costs of training—but local employers pay their fair share if they get the talent they need. We hope that this program becomes a model for other cities looking to link public funding to results.”
Social Finance’s interests in this program go beyond satisfying the needs of local businesses. Among its goals for the effort are to help find jobs for participants who face systemic barriers to entering the workforce (like limited access to post-secondary education, lack of experience or involvement with the justice system) and to help interns stabilize their economic lives and thrive in the workplace.
The first cohorts of interns will be completing the program over the next couple of months, and data should be available on their progress and the impact of the program toward the end of the first quarter of 2024. There’s plenty of room for optimism here – but we’ll be keeping tabs to see what the results actually are.
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