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Wednesday, July 5, 2017 by Jack Craver

Council approves workforce training audit

It took a while for City Council to wrap its collective head around the concept, but after an hour and a half of discussion it overwhelmingly approved a study that will try to assess the effectiveness of some area workforce development efforts.

The resolution approved by Council June 22 authorized city staff to negotiate and execute an interlocal agreement with the University of Texas Ray Marshall Center for a contract no greater than $100,000.

The Marshall Center will use the money over the next year to assess the impact of existing public and private training programs in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, including adult job-training initiatives run by the city’s Economic Development Department as well as the myriad youth-focused STEM initiatives in Austin, including partnerships between local tech companies and the school district that aim to expose kids in high-poverty schools to career opportunities in science and tech.

The resolution approved by Council authorized city staff to negotiate and execute an interlocal agreement with the Ray Marshall Center for a contract no greater than $100,000.

Part of the contract will be used to conduct an inventory of sorts on existing STEM-oriented programs throughout the city, from mentorship programs to tours of facilities run by major companies like Samsung and Silicon Labs. The researchers will try to assess the impact of each program.

“We need to know what’s going on in the city and get some performance measurements,” David Colligan, manager of global business expansion in the Economic Development Department, told the Austin Monitor.

The other part of the contract will focus on assessing the impact of two adult training programs run by the Economic Development Department. One is a long-term training program that offers job training for up to four years for participants, and for which the department contracts with Capital IDEA. The second, operated by Skillpoint Alliance, focuses on shorter-term training, usually several months.

Council Member Delia Garza pointed out that many of the programs Council funds are analyzed and justify their role through performance metrics. Facing a tight budget cycle, she suggested the city would be better off directing its limited funds to programs that have already demonstrated a positive impact, rather than to a study assessing their worth.

Garza embraced the idea that training programs may not be as effective as they could be, but argued that it was likely for lack of investment, not shoddy methodology.

“The concern that these programs are reaching some people but not others is more of a capacity issue,” said Garza. “I’m still very uncertain of how this data will be helpful.”

Mayor Steve Adler commented that he also wasn’t interested in “just an inventory of programs,” but that he was eager for the city to develop a universal “yardstick” that it could use to judge the success of all its economic development programs. Currently, he said, every organization competing for city funds has a different type of explanation for why their program works.

“Everybody’s program is successful in the way they’re measuring their program,” he said.

Council Member Pio Renteria concurred. The city should have more information about how often programs geared toward getting kids good-paying jobs produce their intended effect, he said, including the programs that guided him toward his own career at IBM.

“No one knows that I went off to be a homeowner, paid my taxes, raised my kids to be homeowners,” he said.

Garza and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo argued that it would be more prudent to wait until Council takes up the budget later this summer before approving the funding. Tovo also said she feared the proposed analysis might merely be “duplicating” assessments done by the adult workforce programs themselves.

An amendment proposed by Garza that would allow staff to negotiate but not execute the contract failed, with Garza, Tovo and Council members Leslie Pool, Alison Alter and Ann Kitchen in favor. Garza, Tovo and Pool were the only three who opposed the overall measure.

This story has been updated to accurately reflect the voting tally. We regret the error.

Photo courtesy of NASA.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Economic Development Department: This city department heads up business recruitment, urban regeneration, small business development, arts, and music for the city.

University of Texas: The preeminent state university whose flagship is located in Austin.

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