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On the Path to Self-Sufficiency

6 Dec

Vanessa Contreras is a single mother with a young child. Over the summer of 2018, she applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). HHSC determined Vanessa was eligible for the Choices program, which provides one-on-one job search assistance and support services for people receiving TANF assistance.

Next, Vanessa came to Workforce Solutions Capital Area and attended a Workforce Orientation for Applicants in July 2018. This was her introduction to the many services available to Austin residents like herself.

Vanessa met with Hilaria Gonzales, a program support specialist at Workforce Solutions Capital Area. Together, they planned for Vanessa’s success in the Choices program.

Vanessa Contreras

Vanessa Contreras

Vanessa faced many barriers at the time—first was finding child care for her newborn. Because many child care centers do not accept newborn children, Vanessa was able to secure temporary care through friends. With this assistance, Vanessa completed her orientation and the four-day Career MAPS workshops offered at Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s three Career Centers and began her job search.

“Vanessa was determined to be self-sufficient,” Hilaria said. “Although she faced barriers, she was not deterred from attending workshops, meeting program guidelines, and finding employment. She utilized all the resources at the Career Center to find a job.”

For Vanessa, the information she learned at the workshops and her experiences in Choices helped to raise her awareness of how much value these services can provide to job seekers like herself: “At first, I was not interested in it so much, but after I started my job searching and my weekly meetings with Hilaria, I noticed she was into helping me so much to find a job and find child care.”

Vanessa added, “It was more than what I thought it would be. I liked it: how they treat you, how they go on to help you find a job and push you and help you reach for more.”

Within two weeks, in early August 2018, Vanessa found care for her child with assistance from Workforce Solutions Capital Area, and a job as a day porter supervisor with the janitorial crew at Clean Texas Janitorial. She now works full-time and is determined to continue employment to provide for her new family.

“I put in a lot of hours, more than I expected, but it gives me an opportunity to open doors and be more than a part-time worker like when I started. I didn’t expect to earn this responsibility in such a short time,” said Vanessa.

“Vanessa has learned the value of communication and keeps us informed of any changes,” Hilaria said. “She completed her first 60 days of employment in November. Our support has empowered a single mother to be on the path towards self-sufficiency.”

For other job seekers who may not be aware of all the valuable services available at Workforce Solutions Capital Area, as she once was, Vanessa offered some advice: “Reach for your goals: this can go a long way and you can find a good job. Workforce Solutions is here to help you succeed, and not just give you a job just to have a job,” she said.

“They want you to achieve and reach for your goals. Don’t settle for something small—they are here to help you be the best worker employers are looking for,” Vanessa said.


About Choices
For individuals receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Workforce Solutions Capital Area offers one-on-one job search assistance and support services through the Choices program. This no-cost employment program was designed to give TANF recipients the assistance and support they need to find a job. Specifically, Choices can provide assistance with job searching, child care, transportation and more.

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

For GenTX Month, Let’s Celebrate Texas Students Preparing Their Education Future

20 Nov

Students Walking - Horizontal

November is GenerationTX (GenTX) Month! This month is the opening of the 2019-2020 FAFSA and TASFA application process, so it’s a perfect time to encourage Texas students to apply for college and prepare for the next steps in their education.

GenTX is an initiative from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) that combines the statewide College Application and Financial Aid Awareness campaign, the nationwide American College Application Campaign initiative, and the 60x30TX Texas Challenge to Reach Higher efforts into one exciting month to encourage students to complete a college application and FAFSA.

What kind of opportunities are available for students who continue on their education path after high school? Healthcare, information technology, and skilled trades and advanced manufacturing are the three key sectors of the Austin/Travis County area, and related in-demand occupations include:

  • Certified Nursing Assistants: Through 2026, Austin’s economy will add 4,637 roles in this occupation.
  • Computer Programmers: The entry-level wage for this occupation is $27.41 per hour in Austin.
  • Electricians: This occupation earns an entry-level wage of $16.66 per hour, which is almost 8% more than the state entry-level wage.

Across Texas, schools are observing GenTX Month to encourage and celebrate students who are applying for financial aid and planning and applying to institutions of higher learning. How will you celebrate GenTX Month? Tell us in a comment below!

For National Apprenticeship Week, We’re Celebrating America’s Skilled Workforce

13 Nov

Carpenter training an apprentice.

National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) is a celebration by leaders in business, labor, education, and other critical partners nationwide, and an opportunity to demonstrate our support for apprenticeship. NAW also gives apprenticeship sponsors a perfect time to showcase their programs, facilities, and apprentices in their community.

This weeklong event highlights the benefits of apprenticeship in preparing a highly-skilled workforce to meet the talent needs of employers across diverse industries. Registered apprenticeship programs are gateways to good middle-class jobs in the US construction industry. People interested in a career in skilled trades can begin with the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum and pick up the tools and techniques for occupations ranging from plumbing and electrical work to sheet metal and iron work, and do it under the guidance of master craftworkers.

To celebrate NAW, let’s recognize skilled workers like Savannah Marvets, who completed an apprenticeship program to become a licensed plumber. Let’s also congratulate the students at Lanier High School who are participating in an electrician pre-apprentice dual credit course to become the next generation of skilled electricians keeping the lights on in Austin.

If you’re interested in participating in NAW, then visit the Department of Labor website to find a NAW event near you. Job seekers can connect with employers investing in their workforce through apprenticeship at Do you have something planned for celebrating NAW? Tell us about it in a comment below!

Learning New Skills and Sharpening Old Ones

12 Nov

Dan Cochran has lived in the Austin area for 10 years. His background is in Information Technology, a key economic sector in Austin/Travis County, and his experience with computers began in the military.

Dan enlisted in the U.S. Navy about 6 months after high school and served from 1989 to 1994: “My seagoing squadron was a vertical replenishment/search and rescue platform of H-46 helicopters. I was a plane captain, aircrewman and in-flight electrician,” said Dan.

Dan Cochran

Dan Cochran

“I also served as squadron respiratory program supervisor and the squadron tool calibration coordinator. I created databases to help me track variables, and this was my first introduction to computers in a work setting,” Dan said.

Over the winter of 2017, Dan was seeking a new opportunity in IT. His job searching was unsuccessful, and he sought assistance.

“Workforce Solutions was my first stop after talking with the Texas Workforce Commission for unemployment benefits. I admit, it was a little intimidating going through the mandatory introduction classes and learning how job searching had changed,” Dan said.

At Workforce Solutions Capital Area, Dan met with Melinda Gilley, a career counselor, and Krissi Wells, a data analyst, to explore training opportunities.

“Workforce Solutions, especially Krissi Wells, was a godsend. She kept me motivated and held me responsible,” Dan said.

With assistance from Workforce Solutions Capital Area, Dan enrolled in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program in February 2018, after realizing his computer skills were outdated and he lacked certifications required by employers.

WIOA is a no-cost employment program designed to give job seekers the support and/or skills training they need to find a job. WIOA can provide services such as job search assistance, child care assistance while in training, transportation assistance, and more. Veterans like Dan receive priority for job and training referrals at our three Career Centers and within the WIOA program.

In March, Dan began the Security Information Technology Associate program at New Horizons. The program was taught live online with students participating on their computers, and Dan found it to be a valuable experience.

“Unlike just watching videos, when you got confused, the instructor could try explaining another way. Despite being remote to one another, there was a lot of discussion and fun,” Dan said.

“The class was fairly moderately paced. I knew most of the basics of hardware, but I really lacked any network and zero security understanding. It filled in many gaps I had in my understanding of things I thought I knew,” he added.

Additional classes Dan took through the WIOA program focused on resume writing, job searching, interviewing and utilizing LinkedIn: “I attended classes at Workforce Solutions Capital Area and New Horizons, and I learned a variety of techniques that I used in my actual job hunt,” he said.

“Dan came into WIOA with a great attitude and was ready to get started on his career. He is a very intelligent man and dedicated father, and his positivity, drive and love for his children pushed him through any minor setback that he may have faced,” Krissi said.

“He took everything that came his way with grace and with a growth mindset. He has already accomplished so much and is in route to accomplish much more. I am honored that I was able to work with him and assist him on his new journey,” she said.

Dan tested for his certifications in June. Upon completion of his training, Daniel began working as a field service engineer for Compucom.

“I am working on hardware for both home consumers and retail customers, and work alone or as the lead of a small group. Point of Sale devices, kiosks, printers and office support are my daily jobs,” Dan said.

“Dan utilized the skills and knowledge he gained from serving in the Navy, and that contributed to his success in his training,” said Melinda.

“Dan wanted to secure a job which would allow him to provide for himself and his family, and the WIOA services and training he received allowed him to do so,” she said.

“I am amazed at how technological the retail industry has become. Everything that involves financial transactions involves the Security+ concepts I learned in my class. It is interesting to actually see the practices in place, and not just as a theory,” said Dan.

Looking back on his experience with the WIOA program, Dan offered advice to other job seekers who may be struggling to find work opportunities or are interested in assistance but are unsure where to look:

“I cannot say enough about the help I received from this program from both the New Horizons team and the Workforce Solution folks. I was in the Resource Center nearly daily and actually was offered leads to jobs while helping fellow job seekers,” said Dan.

“The classes and mock interviews are wonderful tools to find your strengths and weaknesses. If you are a veteran, there are many programs out there that can and will help you beyond the GI Bill,” he said.

Learning new skills and sharpening existing ones is another important point: “If your skills have stagnated, take a class while you are looking for a job or even if you still have a job. The way technology changes, going five years without refreshing your skills is foolish,” Dan said.

“Also, use this time to build your network—it is amazing how many people know someone who is hiring if you just ask around. I attended many job fairs and learned of unexpected programs that offer training, such as Easterseals and Goodwill Central Texas,” added Dan.

Dan also recommend job seekers make time to identify what it is they want to do to find the most satisfaction in their career: “Take advantage of the self-assessments and learn what you like to do. Do not try to take a job just because it pays well. IT, especially Security+, feeds my passion to work with technology and help people solve their problems. I encourage others to invest their time in getting their skills and certifications,” he said.

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.

Take a Deep Breath, It’s Stress Awareness Day

4 Nov

Satisfied Funny Multiethnic Male Workers Leaning Back In Chairs,

In terms of human biology, stress serves a useful purpose. But modern life can bring more than enough stress to transform day-to-day living into a struggle. Whether the cause is related to the pressures of your professional role or in personal relationships, too much stress can be harmful. That’s why Stress Awareness Day is an important occasion to recognize the stress in our lives and how it affects us.

The International Stress Management Association (ISMA) established Stress Awareness Day in 1998 to help provide information on stress, and strategies on how to address it for both employers and people. ISMA helps employers and employees help each other by providing comprehensive guides to establishing stress management programs within their organizations, and individuals by caring for their health and well-being each day.

On Stress Awareness Day, let’s make time to identify what’s stressing us out in our own lives and implement solutions. These can include exercising more, meditating, a change in diet or making more time to be with loved ones.

Is your stress work-related? Losing a job can be a source of tremendous stress. If you’ve been laid off, or seek a new role or new skills to advance your career, then Workforce Solutions Capital Area can help. Visit our Job Seekers page to explore available resources.

What is your favorite stress management technique? Let us know in a comment below!

Why It’s Important to Celebrate Family Literacy

1 Nov
family reading a book together

Family reading a book together.

The family that reads together, learns together. When parents are involved in their children’s reading, it has a positive effect on their growing language and literacy skills. For this reason, we’re celebrating National Family Literacy Day today.

This day is meant to bring awareness to the importance of family literacy through the encouragement and education of parents and caregivers, with a focus on the powerful lifelong effect on learning that begins when they participate in children’s literacy practices.

Since 1994, when Congress passed a joint resolution designating November 1 as National Family Literacy Day, people nationwide have celebrated the value of family literacy programs. Your local school and library may be celebrating today with activities like read-a-thons and book drives.

How can you help your children become more literate? Here are three ideas perfect for National Family Literacy Day:

Encourage children to read to their younger siblings. When older brothers or sisters are reading, they are demonstrating their love of reading to their younger siblings.

Take turns. Involve your children in preparing reading times. When then can choose the book, time or location, they will feel more involved.

Schedule it. Reading is just as important as play dates and practices for children’s growth. Make reading a priority by marking reading times on your calendar. You don’t have to limit reading to just today! Make time in your schedule, and you can make reading to your children a regular habit.

Becoming more involved in your children’s literacy is just one way you can be a great parent. For more ideas and resources, visit our Child Care Resources page.

Have other ideas? Let us know in a comment below!

Starting a New Life in a New Home

1 Nov

Two years ago, Amirreza Afzali left his home country of Iran and came to Austin. Amirreza received help from refugee support organizations, but still struggled with barriers like cultural differences and fluency in English. While seeking help to integrate into his new home, Amirreza was recommended to Workforce Solutions Capital Area early in 2018.

At Workforce Solutions Capital Area’s North Career Center, Amirreza met with Saunya O’Dwyer, 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, Amirreza received training to become a heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) technician through Austin Career Institute, a trade and technical school. Additional WIOA services Amirreza received included job search and resume building assistance, and the purchase of tools necessary for his new job.

Amirreza Afzali

Amirreza Afzali

“The HVAC training was a life-changing experience, and the people at Austin Career Institute were wonderful,” Amirreza. “The teachers were very knowledgeable and caring and the staff were supportive. They really wanted me to succeed.”

At Austin Career Institute, Amirreza improved his English fluency by attending a no-cost ESL class: “The class was wonderful. It was an intensive class where we learned English from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Friday, for four months,” he said.

Amirreza completed his training on October 5, and today he works as an HVAC technician for Protex Restaurant Services.

“As I was going through the HVACR class, they found jobs for many of the students. I was able to find a great job at a local HVACR and restaurant equipment repair company as a technician before I finished school, where I have been learning a great deal more,” said Amirreza.

“My training at Austin Career Institute has put me on the path to have a great, long-lasting career where I no longer need government assistance and have growth potential beyond my expectations,” said Amirreza. “I am grateful for Workforce Solutions Capital Area and Austin Career Institute for giving me this opportunity to improve my life.”

“Amirreza overcame the fear and intimidation of being new to a different country, with vast differences in culture, and successfully sought out training support,” said Saunya. “He used that training to get a job in a high-demand field.”

For others seeking to improve their situation in life, Amirreza recommended keeping a serious outlook and working hard: “My advice to people who are seeking assistance is to take this opportunity seriously. This is an opportunity to change your life through Workforce Solutions’ help and your hard work.”


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.

Let’s Celebrate Confidence on National Youth Confidence Day

20 Oct

Diversity Students Friends Happiness Concept

Today is National Youth Confidence Day, a day to celebrate the confidence of young people everywhere. Providing positive role models is necessary to developing young adults who are responsible and confident, which is why it’s worthwhile to connect and inspire young people today.

Confident Girl Mentoring Program, Inc., a nonprofit organization, founded National Youth Confidence Day to encourage a strong foundation of positive relationships to mentor today’s youth and acknowledge their future accomplishments.

How can we celebrate National Youth Confidence Day? Offer encouragement to young people and remind them that their experiences are learning opportunities to help them achieve their goals. Listen to their stories and celebrate their successes.

Here in Austin, we’re helping young people transition from high school to post-secondary education, training or employment with the Youth Employment Partnership. Workforce Solutions Capital Area funds this program, and four community partners participate: American YouthWorks, Community in Schools, Goodwill Central Texas, and LifeWorks.

Young people in Austin live in one of the fastest growing areas in the country. With so many career opportunities to explore, we’re assisting youth with a variety of resources to help prepare for the future, including a series of industry and occupational career profiles that contain information on growth projections, salary expectations, and education/skill requirements.

For students with disabilities, aged 16 -22, the Summer Earn and Learn (SEAL) program provides work readiness training and paid work experience. SEAL is a statewide strategy that includes employability skills training and paid work experience for students with disabilities. Here in Austin, Colton Head participated in SEAL in 2017 and gained confidence through his work experience. Read Colton’s story.

Do you have something in mind to make National Youth Confidence Day special? Tell us in a comment below!

Why Providers, Patients and the Public are Paying Their Respects to Medical Assistants Today

17 Oct

Happy Successful Medical Team

Today is Medical Assistants Recognition Day, celebrated on the third Wednesday of October, when providers, patients and the public express their gratitude for the essential work these healthcare professionals perform. Medical Assistants Recognition Day is part of the Medical Assistants Recognition Week series of events promoted by the American Association of Medical Assistants.

Medical assistants are often the backbone of doctors’ offices. Some occupy the front desk and check patients in when they arrive for an appointment. Others show patients to the exam room, take histories, prepare them for the doctor’s exam, and even assist during the exam. Still other assistants handle insurance forms and referrals or billing.

This is a fast-growing career across the nation, and especially in Austin, where healthcare is one of the three key economic sectors of our region. In 2014, there were 2,410 people working in this occupation in Austin/Travis County. By 2024, that number will grow to 3,250.

This positive outlook for growth reflects the important role medical assistants play in healthcare, and why a day like Medical Assistants Recognition Day is so important. How will you celebrate today? Tell us in a comment below!

Have You Thanked Your Pharmacy Technician Today?

16 Oct

Two women working in a pharmacy

Did you know the third Tuesday in October is National Pharmacy Technician Day? Today, we thank these hard workers for their care for patients and for their professional contributions to the healthcare sector.

This annual event is endorsed by the American Association of Pharmacy Technicians and the Pharmacy Technician Educators Council. In their role, pharmacy technicians prepare medications under the direction of a pharmacist, and measure, mix, count out, label and record amounts and dosages of medications according to prescription orders.

This is a growing occupation in Austin’s healthcare sector. In 2014, there were 1,480 pharmacy technicians working here. By 2024, this occupation will grow to 1,920 openings. One of Austin’s new pharmacy technicians is Valerie Martinez, who began her healthcare career at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center in May 2018. Read her story here.

Interested in observing National Pharmacy Technician Day? You can download graphics and stickers at the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board website. Have other ideas? Tell us in a comment below!