Workforce Solutions continues to combat COVID-19 challenges

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By Scott Akanewich

As officials continue to battle against COVID-19 on the medical and scientific fronts, there is a need to also wage war on an economic level, as the global pandemic has triggered serious consequences and repercussions affecting the bottom line for both businesses and households.

Workforce Solutions is a nonprofit community partnership led by an all-volunteer Board of Directors, that provides no-cost recruitment, employment services and child care assistance to businesses and job seekers specific to the nine-county Rural Capital Area of central Texas.

According to Communications Director Brian Hernanadez, the organization has quickly adjusted to offering online services in the wake of the outbreak, which has allowed them to continue to provide its wide variety of services.

“We quickly transitioned from in-person services to virtual services in March,” said Hernandez. “There was an initial strain on IT staff and resources, which shifted to the staff who are very used to working with customers face-to-face, so that was a big change for them.”

However, as a result of technology’s intervention, WSRCA has been able to streamline many of its services, therefore quickening the pace at which people can access assets, although there is one drawback, which they’ve also addressed, he said.

“This pandemic has offered us an opportunity to bring the virtual aspect to many of our services at a much faster pace than we had planned to do,” said Hernandez. “While this offers greater convenience and access to many of our customers, it’s a struggle for our constituents that do not have internet access or computing devices at home. We’re making our wi-fi access available in our parking lots and providing curbside service by appointment to help serve those customers. We’re also working on a map of free wi-fi service that is available throughout our nine-county area and that will soon be available on our website.”

One of WSRCA’s top priorities is providing a conduit between employers and job-seekers and with a diverse leadership from many different areas of society, they’re able to bridge the gap.

“We have 27 recognized community leaders serving on our board, from across many areas of expertise including business, community-based organizations, economic development, education, government, literacy, labor and vocational rehabilitation,” said Hernandez. “Our Board of Directors contributes significant amounts of time, talent and energy to further our organizational mission of empowering the workforce of the Rural Capital Area.”

WSRCA is geared to helping employers build and maintain businesses by always being on point for what is required to keep pace with an ever-changing economic landscape, he said. 

“Our integrated, employer-driven workforce system actively involves employers in workforce decisions that allow them to identify labor and economic trends, define skills and training standards and hire high-skilled workers,” he said. “While simultaneously providing job-seekers with information, advice, job search assistance, supportive services and training in the employer-identified industries and occupations, so they will attain cutting edge skills that will lead to local self-sufficient employment.”

Despite Texas having one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in America, the current rate of job-seekers has already dropped – but that doesn’t mean vigilance isn’t still required in order to maintain the upper hand.

“The unemployment rate in the Rural Capital Area of central Texas continues to trend down towards pre-COVID-19 levels, sliding to 7.1 percent in June 2020, down from 10.6 percent in May,” said Hernandez. “But, we still have about 38,305 residents seeking employment. Although that’s a decline of more than 31 percent from the month prior, we still have a lot of work to do to continue to upskill our workforce and empower businesses amid COVID-19. But we’re proud of our mission – we believe in our partnerships and teams and we’re grateful for the opportunity to serve our wonderful communities.”

Hernandez also highlighted WSRCA’s Child Care Services program, which promotes long term self-sufficiency by enabling parents to work and attend skills training or education courses by offering affordable, accessible child care options.

“We support families, providers and the communities by assisting eligible parents with tuition assistance for children 12 years old and younger and for children with disabilities 18 years old and younger,” he said. “We’re also providing child care technical assistance and training to local child care providers. We encourage families to review the CCS program and to see if they are eligible by applying through the ‘For Child Care’ portal on our website.”

While COVID-19 has brought about an entirely new and different spectrum of challenges to both employers and job-seekers, economic crises that cause problems are certainly nothing new, said Hernandez.

“While this health scare is unprecedented, recessions are not,” he said. “The strongest companies use this time to evaluate their business model and retool to serve a customer base with new needs. Successful job-seekers are also making strong pivots to upskill and maximize their opportunities in evolving industries with open positions in high demand.”

WSRCA offers a wide array of services for job-seekers including Career and Benefits Exploration, Computer and Internet Access, Education and Skills Training, Online/Onsite Hiring Fairs, How-To Workshops, Interview Counseling, Job Search Support, Labor Market Information, Resume Support, Self-Assessment Tools, Unemployment Benefits Information, Veterans Services, Vocational Rehabilitation Services for People with Disabilities, Wage Claim and Child Labor Information and Youth Services for Out of School Individuals (ages 16-24).

But, the pandemic has caused as much or more consternation among business owners and employers as it has to employees and job-seekers – something WSRCA also has the pulse of, said Hernandez.

“We know this has been a very difficult time for local businesses of all sizes,” he said. “For employers, it’s important to talk about your company’s outlook for workforce with our Business Solutions Consultants. They’re available to identify resources that are specific to the needs of each company.”

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 allowed WSRCA the chance to refine its services in order to gain maximum results through better coordination, which resulted in an across-the-board synergy between local employers and the job force, said Hernandez.

“Over the years, the changes we’ve seen have been to encourage greater coordination of resources by these programs to focus these job training opportunities to the ones that are most in need by local businesses,” he said. “We work every day to ensure we’re hearing directly from businesses, job seekers, educators, child care providers, parents and other stakeholders in the workforce arena to make sure the focus of our efforts are on those things that will have the greatest impact on our local communities.”  

WSRCA CEO Paul Fletcher made it clear the organization’s goal is simply to help.

“We know this is a difficult time for local families and businesses and our team at Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area is here to help,” said Fletcher. “As the Workforce Board for Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano and Williamson counties, we’re grateful for the opportunity to provide workforce solutions for job-seekers and employers, as well as child care assistance for working families. We are Rural Capital Area and with your help, we’ll get through this challenging time for our community – together.”

More information on WSRCA and the services available to employers and job-seekers is available on their website at  www.workforcesolutionsrca.com.

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