Finding Opportunities to Rebuild a Life

8 Aug

Michael Zygmont is a longtime Austin resident who recently returned here after working for 5 years in Venezuela. While he enjoyed many experiences overseas, the national crises in Venezuela ended his time there in disaster.

“When I came back, after getting wiped out financially in Venezuela because of what’s happening there, I had to get assistance to return,” said Michael. “When I came back, I returned with nothing, to nothing. I am starting my life over again, basically.”

Michael Zygmont

Michael Zygmont.

Michael returned to the U.S in 2016 and began rebuilding his life with necessary aspects like a driver’s license, bank accounts, and credit history. He house-sat and worked—first in retail, then temporarily as a data entry clerk for the Texas State Senate. That job ended when the regular senate session did, but by then Michael was renting an apartment and had a steady place to live.

The deposit, rent and utilities for the apartment increased his monthly costs, so Michael began looking at available assistance programs. It was during his search that he encountered Workforce Solutions Capital Area and began developing a plan.

“Last summer, I really started to investigate what I would do longer term,” said Michael. “I could get jobs that are low pay but at least put food on the table and keep me housed, but where would that lead? This decision had to be made, and I thought I would move to IT, for the job growth and flexibility.”

One idea was to enter financial technology to leverage his knowledge of financial services and writing: “I have been a fully licensed financial advisor and worked at companies like Dean Witter Reynolds and Morgan Stanley. When I graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in English Literature, that is what I went into,” Michael said.

At Workforce Solutions Capital Area, Michael met with Merih Ghebregiorgis, a career counselor. They explored job search assistance and skills training opportunities funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program.

After entering the WIOA program, Michael received IT training from Consulting Solutions.Net, a training partner with Workforce Solutions Capital Area. WIOA program funds paid for his training, and Michael also received assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including gas cards to travel to and from his classes.

“In supplementing textbook training with real life experience, I connected with Goodwill Central Texas and started an internship,” Michael said. “It helped me to make bill payments and keep pushing along.”

Michael interned at Goodwill’s Computer Works, harvesting electronics components. He requested and received an internship with Goodwill’s IT department, located at Goodwill’s Community Center, where he learned more about IT and received a pay raise. He completed the internship in July.

“Michael was almost going to be homeless had it not been for his determination to succeed and WIOA’s assistance,” said Merih. “WIOA helped him to stay focused and stay optimistic.”

Searching for a job and creating life stability has been a stressful experience, but also a learning experience, for Michael. For other job seekers in Austin, he has some words of advice: “You’ve got to focus, get the job done, be there, and get yourself into a position where you have the possibility of moving forward and upward,” he said.

“Coming from Venezuela, I was surprised to find how many resources are available here for people like me, and I am grateful,” Michael said. “Many job seekers may feel discouraged or helpless, and that can be like a mental trap. To overcome that, you must take advantage of your opportunity and take responsibility for your own life—take the bull by the horns,” Michael said.

Michael would like to give back and is willing to assist job seekers looking for advice. If you would like to speak with him, please submit a request at our Contact Us page.


About WIOA
Workforce Solutions Capital Area offers financial assistance to eligible individuals for job search assistance, training, and other support services through funding from the WIOA program. This is a no-cost employment program designed to give job seekers the support and/or skills training they need to find a job.

Visit Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s WIOA page to learn more.


Through the Subsidized Employment Program, Employers Find Productive Workers and Support Their Communities

11 Jul

Employers seeking to connect with workers ready to apply their skills can do so through many avenues, and one effective option is the Subsidized Employment program. That’s what ACL Facility Services (ACL), a full-service HVAC contractor, is doing with assistance from Workforce Solutions Capital Area.

Logo - ACL Facility ServicesACL is a sister company of AJW Facilities and Construction in San Diego, Calif. ACL has been in business in Travis County for one year, and today employs seven full-time workers. Recently, ACL brought on two full-time employees, and completed the hiring process with the Workforce Education and Readiness Continuum (WERC) and Workforce Solutions Capital Area.

Tim Galbraith is ACL’s founder and general manager. Adding new employees to his growing company can be challenging because of Austin’s low unemployment rate and the expectation of higher wages from experienced HVAC technicians, said Tim, but he is making the hiring process more efficient by participating in the Subsidized Employment program.

ACL began working with Workforce Solutions Capital Area in early 2018, and attended two Meet the Grads hiring events. At these events, employers could interview job seekers who had graduated HVAC training programs hosted by community partners and funded through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and WERC.

“We started going to the interview sessions and met with a lot of new candidates that had just gotten their certification, but needed more experience to refine their skills,” said Tim.

ACL Facility Services

The ACL team.

This was when ACL entered the Subsidized Employment program, a federally-funded program administered by Workforce Solutions Capital Area that offers employers a subsidy to employ participating and eligible job seekers.

The benefits of participating soon became evident: “It was a perfect fit for us, since we could train them to our way of doing things and have them ‘audition’ for our open positions. If they were not a perfect fit, we were able to switch out candidates until we found a match,” said Tim.

It was at a Meet the Grads event in February that ACL agreed to enter into the Subsidized Employment program. Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s Business Solutions team now collaborates with ACL to place candidates with the company, and ACL hired two candidates as full-time employees in June.

For employers, the value in participating in the Subsidized Employment program is having access to a pool of motivated people who have completed training and are now willing to learn and prove themselves to employers, according to Tim.

“Also, as an employer, it is so useful to be able to see the candidates work for you while the program pays their wages, so that you are not wasting time and money to find the perfect fit by yourself,” said Tim.

At ACL, providing for local communities is an important value, and participating in the program was a natural choice to make.

ACL engages in community work with multiple associations, such as the Austin Association of Facility and Maintenance Engineers (AAFAME) and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA). ACL has also committed to future donations to the DePelchin Children’s Center and the Ronald McDonald House at Dell Children’s Hospital, said Tim.

“Giving back to the community is essential for the community to thrive. It helps those living in the community to become self-sufficient,” Tim said.

For other employers seeking to connect with trained people ready to work, Tim recommends Subsidized Employment: “Give it a try. It will benefit an individual who is looking to contribute to society, as well as your business,” he said.


About Subsidized Employment
Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s Subsidized Employment program can reimburse participating employers 50% or more on straight-time wages for 8 weeks. The employment may be part time, less than 30 hours per week or full-time, up to 40 hours per week.

Visit Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s Employee Skills Training page to learn more.

Finding a Light at the End of the Tunnel with WERC

10 May
Image of Bathu Do

Bathu Do.

Bathu Do has lived in Austin since October 2014. During her years in Austin, Bathu has advanced her career in project/program management and strategy. She then recently decided to purchase a home.

Unfortunately, a few weeks after closing on her house, she was let go from her employer in November 2017. With no income, her housing situation became uncertain. Rather than worry, Bathu acted—she realized she did not have the IT certificates required by local employers, so Bathu identified what industry knowledge to acquire to become more competitive in the Austin job market.

She visited the unemployment tax office in North Austin, and came across a flyer describing opportunities in continuing education and training: “I was looking to get my Project Management Professional [PMP] certification to make myself more marketable in my job search, and that was available,” said Bathu. “They referred me to Workforce Solutions Capital Area, where I found Kalinda Smith.”

Kalinda, a WERC Career Counselor with Workforce Solutions Capital Area, met with Bathu in February. “She was courteous and sympathetic to my situation,” said Bathu. “It was refreshing to have Kalinda by my side, because she really lifted my spirits when I felt like I had nowhere else to go.”

With Kalinda’s assistance, Bathu participated in the Workforce and Education Readiness Continuum (WERC) program. WERC is a network of community partners that provide education and workforce services to Austin-area residents.

Through WERC, Bathu received tuition assistance for classes at Extellent Professional Development Center, where she studied project management and completed the Certified Scrum Manager training (Scrum is a framework for managing complex software and product development). Bathu also trained in ITIL, which are IT service management practices that focus on aligning IT services with the needs of a business.

While participating in WERC, Bathu received gas cards to travel to and from her classes and assistance with meeting her March mortgage payment to ensure she had a stable place to live.

“I’ve met so many people through the program and in my classes. The experience has been truly rewarding and uplifting at the same time. It gave me a light at the end of the tunnel. I would highly recommend WERC for anyone in need,” Bathu said.

In April, Bathu began working as a project manager for Association Member Benefits Advisors. She will receive her PMP certification at the end of May.

“Bathu is going to be setting up a new department at AMBA, and is really leaning into her new role,” said Kalinda.

“Extellent is part of my business network now, and I feel so honored to have met them. They have helped me in so many ways, right from the beginning,” Bathu said. “These people truly care about your experience and the knowledge you gain when you attend any of their classes. They’re so approachable that I try and refer them to as many people as I can.”

Bathu has experienced a roller coaster of events, from unemployment and potentially losing her new home to earning professional skills and gaining work in a management position. In that time, she has learned so much.

“Look at all avenues available to you, and always build your network of communications. You have got to put yourself out there, to know what you can and cannot get. It may feel like the door closes more often than not, but the right job for you is waiting for you,” said Bathu.

“Even when you think you have exhausted every tool and option, there’s more. Go find it; nothing comes easy but it will help you build your character. I’m so thankful for all my experiences, because it has always taught me something. Good or bad, I’ve become stronger and more determined, and so can you!”

About WERC
The Workforce and Education Readiness Continuum (WERC) provides client services ranging from Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) to job readiness instruction and occupational training with the goal of empowering clients with the skills they need to advance their employment opportunities and realize their economic potential.

For more information, program specifics and eligibility requirements, please visit

For St. George’s Episcopal School, a Commitment to Quality is for Students and Teachers Alike

19 Apr

Each year, Workforce Solutions Capital Area hosts the Child Care Directors Symposium, an educational event for child care providers in Austin and Travis County to connect and share ideas. This year, one of the attendees was St. George’s Episcopal School in Austin.

St. George’s Episcopal School was established in 1966, and serves 100 children. The school’s mission is to be an inclusive community and to inspire children to love learning by nurturing each child’s mind, body and spirit, according to director Jerri Thompson.

St George's Episcopal School 002

St. George’s Episcopal School has provided child care services to Austin families for decades.

The school has had a relationship with Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s Child Care Services program since 2011, and this was the fifth year the school attended the Child Care Directors Symposium, Thompson said.

“This was the first time I sent Lead Teachers who have 15-plus years of experience and hold lead roles in the school to the conference. I sent these teachers because I saw they were experiencing burnout and were looking for more challenges in their field,” she said.

Over the two-day event, Thompson observed her team becoming more inspired and discovering new ideas.

“During our time at the conference, I watched as each of them grew more and more excited about what they were learning,” she said. “They made comments like, ‘Wow, we don’t get this type of information at other conferences;’ ‘This is much more advanced;’ ‘We feel special being able to attend;’ ‘Thank you for considering our feelings, and sending us to such a high-quality training;’ and ‘I love these speakers, they really know their stuff.’”

The teachers’ discussions focused on different approaches on how to work with team members, how to see their child care center through the eyes of a director, understanding how director decisions are related to the budget, and how to delegate to their teaching team, according to Thompson.

“They also learned about resources for working with children with special needs. They hear this at teacher conferences, but this session really stood out to them,” she said.

“The comments continued into the next week at school, and I witnessed these teachers pulling out their handouts and discussing what they learned with other teachers,” Thompson added.

The Child Care Directors Symposium is one of the many quality-related activities the school engages in with Workforce Solutions Capital Area, Thompson said. Another key identifier of St. George’s Episcopal School’s dedication to the delivery of quality care is their long-standing participation in the Texas Rising Star (TRS) program. The school is currently a 4-star rated program, the highest rating available.

Director Jerri Thompson reads to a class of children.

Director Jerri Thompson reads to a class of children.

“With our current tuition rates, it makes affordability difficult. The cost of high-quality care for a school that is 100% tuition driven increases the complexity of enrolling children from a lower socioeconomic status bracket, so TRS helps us support Workforce Solutions Capital Area Child Care Services families.”

We are a National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accredited school, and I value organizations that recognize early childhood programs work towards excellence. I also want our school to be able to fulfill its mission of being an inclusive community,” Thompson said.

About the Texas Rising Star program
The Texas Rising Star program is for child care providers who meet quality requirements that exceed the state’s minimum licensing standards and that are designed to enhance the intellectual, physical, and social development of children in care. In return for their commitment to quality, providers receive numerous benefits including enhanced reimbursement rates, learning materials and equipment, child development college course scholarships, and more.

Learn more about the Texas Rising Star program here.

Doing Something New Every Day as a Plumber’s Apprentice

19 Mar

A desire to work with her hands and gain skills and confidence is what brought Savannah Marvets into the plumbing and pipefitting industry. Today, she is a member of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 286 and close to completing her apprenticeship program and becoming a licensed plumber.

Her journey began during her senior year of high school, when she first learned about career opportunities in the plumbing and pipefitting industry.

“I knew I wasn’t ready for college, and I wanted to work with my hands, and this was the best fit,” Savannah said.

During high school, Savannah attended Tulsa Welding School’s pipefitting program in Tulsa, Okla. In 2013, she graduated high school and the program, then joined Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 286 in Austin and entered their five-year apprenticeship program that September. As an apprentice, Savannah has learned in both traditional classroom setups and with hands-on experiences.

“I wanted to be confident in what I was doing, and know it well, so I could do it for myself. It gave me a lot of confidence in what I do,” she said.

Photo - Savannah Marvets 1For Savannah, on-the-job training means gaining professional experience with a local employer: “I am with a plumbing and mechanical company, and have worked on the plumbing side for about a year. We do a lot of remodels for old chillers and boilers—we replace them and run the new piping to the new systems we install. Over the summer, we work on air conditioning units at schools and government buildings,” Savannah said.

She added, “It’s a small company and I am learning a bunch. I am lucky, because I get to do it all.”

Opportunities to demonstrate her skills also come from friendly competitions: “Our local [union] had a contest, and I competed with two other students, and I beat them. Then I went to a contest in Waco with all the unions in Texas, and I won that one, too,” Savannah said.

“Then I went to the district level, which is all the states in the Southeast, and I placed third. We did a layout project, pipefitting, welding, tube bending, soldering and brazing, as well as an ISO and written test. It was a lot of fun.”

Photo - Savannah Marvets 2Plumbing is an industry traditionally dominated by men. But for Savannah, this hasn’t negatively impacted her experience: “Everyone treats me like a little sister or daughter. Everyone is looking out for me, or getting me involved in what they are trying to teach. I really like that,” she said.

Savannah was nervous at the program’s beginning, but by sticking with it and having more and more positive experiences, her doubt is gone and she has become more confident: “I feel like I’ve taken a lot from this program,” she said.

“There is always something going on in this trade, and that’s what I like most about it. One day you’re doing something and the next day you do something completely different. They keep you on your toes, but it’s fun and always a new experience,” Savannah said.

About the Plumbers and Pipefitters Apprenticeship Program
The Plumbers and Pipefitters Apprenticeship Program is jointly sponsored by the Mechanical Contractors Association of Austin, Inc., and Local Union 286 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada. The program is recognized by the Texas Education Agency, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

The apprenticeship program lasts five years, and requires 10,000 hours of on-the-job training and 1,225 hours of classroom instruction in subjects related to the trade. The program also includes a probation period of 1,000 hours of employment and a review at each level of advancement. The on-the-job phase requires employment by a qualified contractor, and enables apprentices to earn their way while learning the trade.

For more information, visit the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local Union 286 website.

Why William Baca Insurance Believes in Giving People a Chance

21 Feb
William Baca Insurance 002

Yvonne and Will Baca.

Will and Yvonne Baca are the owners of William Baca Insurance, an independent agent with The Farmers Insurance Group. William Baca Insurance has been in business in Travis County since 2014, and many of the employees on the team were hired with assistance from Workforce Solutions Capital Area.

The agency has had 10 Subsidized Employment placements, and five of these became full-time roles at Will’s growing company. When hiring, Will always interviews applicants at Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s North Career Center.

Robert Doherty, a Business Solutions Representative at the North Career Center, has worked with Will since he began participating in the Subsidized Employment program in 2016.

“Will has been a friend to us. He keeps coming back and is always willing to try working with a new applicant,” said Robert.

Hiring locally is not William’s only goal—training and keeping Austin workers is also important. After qualified employees complete an internship and probationary period, William Baca Insurance will assist them with advancing within the company by providing them with the means to study and take the testing required to gain licensure to become a licensed insurance agent.

William Baca Insurance 001

Will Baca attending a hiring event.

“We give people a chance so they won’t feel like they are stuck. We pay for their license, and there is a shortage of licensed people in Austin,” said Will. “I tell them that having the license makes them more employable. We will help them to take the license test, and even retake it.”

“In the Subsidized Employment program, people with a good attitude and who are motivated know they can do well,” said Will.

As a veteran, William keeps a keen eye out for other veterans seeking career opportunities. William served in the U.S. Army for eight years, achieving the rank of staff sergeant, and appreciates the value and skills that veterans bring to the workforce.

“I was in military intelligence, and when I left the military I couldn’t get a job. Military intelligence doesn’t translate well into job descriptions,” Will said. “Veterans want to hone their skills and be sharp. In insurance, you must be analytical but also personable. With vets, they know how to overcome obstacles like this.”

Will and his team are dedicated to the Austin/Travis County community outside of the office, as well. William Baca Insurance supports many community organizations, including Thank America’s Teachers, Boys & Girls Clubs, the First Tee and more.

“I volunteer for the Financial Literacy Coalition of Texas as an adviser. I used to teach classes on financial literacy as a case manager. Now I am more knowledgeable and I want to pass that along to people,” Will said.

“When we reach the next level, we should give a hand to the people below us so they can rise up, too. I know that I have benefited in life from others treating me that way,” he said.

About Subsidized Employment
Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s Subsidized Employment program can reimburse participating employers 50% or more on straight-time wages for 8 weeks. The employment may be part time, less than 30 hours per week or full-time, up to 40 hours per week.

Visit Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s Employee Skills Training page to learn more.

Achieving Goals and Finding Work in Two Weeks

8 Jan

Photo - Maria PeruMaria Peru is a single parent who wants to do the best she can for her three boys. However, beginning her career was a struggle without a GED or work experience. Difficulty finding child care, and also reliable transportation, only increased her challenges.

Despite these difficulties, Maria stayed motivated. In May, she attended a Workforce Orientation for Applicants (WOA), an introduction to Workforce Solutions office services. Through this orientation, staff worked with Maria to develop and employment plan and provided her child care so that she could look for work.

Finding child care for her son who has ADHD was a large barrier to finding work: “I was having trouble putting him in a child care center that could provide his medicine daily, so he stayed out of child care for a good two months,” Maria said.

To remove this barrier, Maria was offered assistance through the Continuity of Care Services (Coc) program. Workforce Solutions Capital Area extended child care services to assist Maria in finding and keeping a job without disruption, according to Kristi Vidaure, Child Care Customer and Provider Relations Coordinator.

With her child receiving care at a Texas Rising Star quality-rated center, Maria dedicated herself to finding work. She set a goal to place herself in a customer service role before August, and for two weeks made a full-time effort of seeking employment.

“I was at the career center every day on the computer, looking for jobs, applying for jobs, updating my resume, and also going to interviews almost every day,” Maria said. “It was hard, but also really helpful.”

Maria found a job in June—not only had she achieved her goal, but she had done it early.

Today, Maria works full time as a collections agent at Financial Corporation of America. Her future plans include earning her GED and enrolling at Austin Community College.

“My next step is going back to school for business management or legal aid. They assist people, and I am interested in that,” she said.

“Don’t give up! I didn’t give up, and I was employed in two weeks because I went to the career center every day. Workforce Solutions is awesome, and I love it,” said Maria.

About CoC
CoC serves as a dual-generation program for low-income families in Travis County, focusing on the whole child as well as the family and community context for growth and development. CoC ensures continuity of services in instances where child care would otherwise be terminated, such as when parents have completed workforce development programs and are currently seeking employment.

CoC ensures continuity of high-quality child care for low income families, serves as an investment rather than an expenditure to the City of Austin because it promotes family self-sufficiency by increasing family capacity to gain or maintain earnings, and provides consistent high-quality child care which helps prepare children to enter kindergarten.

This program is funded by Travis County and the City of Austin, and administered by the Workforce Solutions Capital Area Workforce Board. Workforce Orientation for Applicants (WOA) is an introduction to Workforce Solutions office services.

Earning Confidence and Success in the Summer Earn and Learn Program

29 Aug

Head, ColtonFor Colton Head, gaining confidence and becoming more assertive are important steps toward achieving real life work experience. To reach those steps, he began participating in the Vocational Rehabilitation program with the Texas Workforce Commission, and it was here that he learned about the Summer Earn and Learn (SEAL) program, which provides pre-employment transition services to students with disabilities. Colton, born and raised in Austin, recognized the value of the opportunity before him and took it.

After entering SEAL, Colton completed a weeklong Job Readiness Boot Camp led by Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) youth contractor, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas: “I wanted to do it to experience what a job is and how to work,” Colton said. “So, when I am ready to have a job, I will know what to do and be able to work.”

“At the beginning of the program, Colton mentioned wanting to gain more confidence and become more assertive,” said Trent Moore, a grant project supervisor with Goodwill. “He has been doing just that. His growth from the beginning of the program to now has been outstanding.”

Colton—quiet and shy at the program’s beginning—demonstrated remarkable progress as the days went by. During the Boot Camp experience, he led small group discussions and presented ideas to the larger group, and showed positive reinforcement for his fellow group members when they shared their own ideas. With Colton’s enthusiasm, the other participants became more comfortable in participating in group discussions.

Over the summer, Colton received work experience through a job internship with H-E-B in South Austin.

“The thing I enjoyed the most was getting to know the other employees, because when I first got there, I was nervous. But they helped me whenever I needed it,” Colton said.

“They were so sweet to me, and that was nice. It touched my heart,” he added.

“Colton has continued to grow in his internship experience, and has developed many skills,” said Trent. “This newfound confidence was evident in his internship by his strong work ethic and customer-focused mindset.”

Indeed, Colton made such a good impression with his hard work and dedication to customer service, that his H-E-B supervisors want to hire him on full time.

Colton recommended SEAL as a practical solution for other students who want to gain professional experience but are unsure where to begin.

“If you want to experience what a job is, you should do an internship with Goodwill,” he said. “After that experience, you can start applying to jobs and start working, get some money.”

About SEAL

Summer Earn and Learn is a statewide initiative that provides employability skills training and a paid work experience during the summer for students with disabilities, ages 14 to 22. The program increases the availability and effectiveness of services to Texas students with disabilities, and prepares them for a successful transition to postsecondary education and careers.

Are you interested in learning more about SEAL? Visit the Texas Workforce Commission’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services website.

Finding a New Home Through WERC

17 Jan

diana-martinezThrough a supportive network of service providers, Diana Martinez was able to make Austin her home. Diana Martinez was born in Houston, and she and her family moved to southern Mexico when she was seven. Diana attended her first year of college in 2014 until she and her parents decided that area of Mexico was too dangerous for her to remain in college.

In early 2014, Diana and her younger sister moved to Austin to live with her aunt, who helped her enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Manos de Cristo. Manos de Cristo is one of eight community partner agencies in the Workforce and Education Readiness Continuum (WERC), which provides a spectrum of supportive services, literacy classes and occupational training to individuals in the Austin-Travis County area. Diana took ESL courses from May 2014 through May 2015 and received certificates for her proficiency in English.

For Diana, who was extremely homesick for her parents and friends, her ESL teachers and classmates became a second family. “I cried every day for the first three months I moved to Austin,” Diana said. “I missed my friends and was at zero with English.”

Diana dove into the ESL courses, which were taught in an immersion style where the teachers primarily spoke English to the students. Diana said the teachers were very invested in their students’ success. “I felt so special,” she said. “The teachers were always giving me support.” According to Karen Green, Diana’s case manager, Diana received about 200 hours of ESL education, including one week that specifically covered English vocabulary in the workplace.

“It was an honor to have Diana in my English class,” said Sarah Sanchez-Leal, a former AmeriCorps Vista who taught ESL courses at Manos de Cristo. “She was consistently a key contributor to the learning environment in class. She always showed up early to class and worked very hard. I’m delighted to know that all her hard work paid off. I’m also equally as pleased to know that Manos de Cristo was a useful tool in getting her to where she wants to be.”

Diana began her ESL courses with some knowledge of English, said Karen, but the courses helped her build her confidence. “I’m sure she is now thinking in English, not translating it in her head,” Karen said. “She got past the plateau.”

In addition to taking the ESL courses, Diana worked part time as a childcare leader at Manos de Cristo until Karen encouraged her to apply for an administrative assistant internship at American YouthWorks (AYW), another WERC partner agency.

“She was a great student. I saw that from the beginning,” Karen said of Diana. “Any time any [employment] opportunity came up, I kept thinking about her.”

Karen said Diana was hesitant to apply for the internship because she was worried about her English fluency and had never held an administrative assistant job. “I said, you got this, you can do it,” said Karen. “You really want to use your English and get work experience.”

Karen reviewed Diana’s resume and recommended her for the AYW internship, which Diana received! After her internship ended, AYW offered Diana a full-time administrative assistant position in May 2015. Karen said because of the interconnectedness among the WERC partner agencies, she felt very comfortable referring Diana to AYW.

Diana credits the ESL classes at Manos de Cristo and her job at AYW with helping her find her place in Austin. Diana found the courses so effective that she recommends them to AYW clients who want to learn or improve their English. Additionally, Diana’s younger sister is following in Diana’s footsteps and is taking ESL courses through Manos de Cristo! “Now, I have friends, I have work, and consider Austin my home,” Diana said.


About WERC

The Workforce and Education Readiness Continuum (WERC) provides client services ranging from Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) to job readiness instruction and occupational training with the goal of empowering clients with the skills they need to advance their employment opportunities and realize their economic potential. For more information program specifics and eligibility requirements, please visit


Driving Toward Success in Pink Steel Toed Boots

3 Jan

nola-ryan-photoNola Ryan’s path to her career as a CDL truck driver has been rocky, but she used the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program to set herself on a path to success. Nola, a longtime Austin resident and Johnston High School (now Eastside Memorial High School) alumna, began her professional life working in a retirement system that provides benefits to state employees and retirees. However, in 2003, Nola began struggling with addiction, and she was in and out of prison through 2014.

“I went to prison five times,” Nola said. “When I got out the last time, I knew I needed to make the change. With that amount of time [in prison], I probably could’ve gotten a master’s degree.” Nola said she was tempted to return to her former lifestyle, but she was determined to succeed. “I almost slipped,” she said, “But I knew I needed to make the change for good, in order to get back into the job market and make good money.”

Nola received food stamps through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which referred her to Workforce Solutions’ occupational training services. Nola enrolled in the WIOA program through Workforce Solutions, and she took a CDL course at Austin Community College. “I looked into truck driving because it was the easiest way for me to make the money that I was making when I left [the workforce] in 2003,” she said. Truck driving training allowed Nola to obtain her CDL certification within five short weeks!

Nola said truck driving training’s short duration appealed to her, because she knew that in order for stay out of prison, she would need to train quickly and earn an income as soon as possible. Also, she wanted a change of scenery. “I was used to being behind the desk in the retirement industry,” she said. A self-described “girly girl”, Nola said, “I had never really looked into transportation and trucking. I thought it would be a different type of experience.” Importantly, she said the transportation industry can be accepting of job seekers with backgrounds. “The times I came out [of prison] previously, I let it get me down – my background issues,” Nola said.

Nola worked with Pat Sartor, a Workforce Solutions WIOA Career Counselor, to enroll in CDL training. “I was very proactive about when I could start training,” Nola said. She visited ACC and spoke with a recruiter, and she also conducted online research about CDL training. “Everything just happened really fast,” she said. “Pat took the initiative to get me in there as fast as I could. Pat made it happen for me. She didn’t allow me any time to get discouraged.” Nola attended a rigorous class schedule for five weeks – 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tim Loch, an instructor with the CDL program, was “encouraging, supportive and informative, to say the least,” Nola said. With the help of Tim and the rest of the ACC CDL staff, Nola passed the CDL test!

Before Nola began training, she had attended a job fair for Goodwill, at which Goodwill offered Nola a full time job. When Nola began her rigorous training, Goodwill’s Jason Stewart worked with Nola’s schedule and allowed her flexible weekend hours working part time in its warehouse. “I knew I wanted to drive [as a CDL truck driver] for Goodwill,” Nola said, and she hoped that Goodwill would promote from within once she obtained her CDL.

On July 27, 2016, Goodwill promoted Nola to a full time position as a box truck driver! Nola hopes that a CDL driver position will become available, but for now she enjoys learning how the entire Goodwill organization works, not just one particular position.

Nola said she enjoys driving for Goodwill, and she especially appreciates the “empowering experience” of breaking barriers in a field in which women are underrepresented. “I’m a girly girl, so I don’t see too many women like me who are in the industry,” Nola said. “I’d never owned a pair of steel toed boots. But mine are pink!”


About the WIOA Program

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program is a no-cost employment program designed to give job seekers the support and/or skills training they need to find a job. Specifically, WIOA can provide:

  • Job search assistance
  • Child care assistance while in training
  • Transportation assistance
  • Interview clothing and uniforms
  • Tools needed for your new job
  • Funding for basic skills and occupational training

For more information about the program and eligibility, please visit