Texas Workforce Commissioner Julian Alvarez recalls a time he spoke at a graduation ceremony for the Lee College Incarceration Center. Some inmates had the opportunity to earn their associate degrees and they went for it; it was life-changing.
“Sometimes our kids make mistakes,” said Alvarez, a former patrol officer. “It was one of the most emotional events I’ve ever been to. I know what it’s like being behind bars. I saw how they would walk along the wall, or were told when to go to sleep.”
A focus on vocational training efforts — whether for inmates or any group — could help Kerrville and the surrounding areas attract companies and workers that boost the economy, Alvarez said.
Alvarez gave a presentation during the Hill Country Economic Summit on Thursday about the different kinds of training programs and grants that TWC can offer communities such as Kerrville. There are programs and sizable grants for everyone, including local government entities, educational institutions, small businesses and nonprofits.
“I want to make sure that when people like Gil Salinas (the chief operating officer of the Kerr Economic Development Corporation) or your chambers or other EDCs that work the surrounding area bring in people that are interested in coming into our region, we have a skilled workforce ready to go,” Alvarez said.
He added that Kerrville’s unemployment rate — 2.7% as of December — is indicative of Kerrville’s good workforce support already. But there’s always room for improvement.
The TWC encourages focusing training on minority groups, especially people with disabilities, women, those who speak another language besides English and those who are or have been incarcerated, to name a few, Alvarez said.
In 2020, there will be an expected 1.4 million jobs in computing, but women are expected to fill 3% of them, Alvarez said. Many young girls in rural areas around Texas are not aware that jobs in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are available to them.
Alvarez said apprenticeships can also benefit a community. A place like Kerrville could consider an apprenticeship that teaches how to make beer to exclusively veterans for free, for example, which is being done elsewhere in the state.
For more information on all the different programs TWC offers, go to twc.state.tx.us.