US Mayor Article

Internet is New Key to Workforce Development in Austin
AustinAtWork.com Links Area Employers, Job Seekers

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson believes that, in today's strong economy, regional competitive advantage is based on the ability of employers and entire communities to recruit, train and retain quality talent. This is a major challenge for Austin: At 1.9 percent, the city's rate of unemployment is less than half the nation's. Six hundred start-up companies are expected to grow out of the city's economy in 2000, and an estimated 85,000 new jobs will need to be filled during the next two years.

Under circumstances such as these, says Mayor Watson, "Austin's economic development strategies must shift from attracting companies to attracting and training talented workers to fill available positions." Austin's response to this challenge — a response spearheaded by the Mayor — is a unique public-private workforce development initiative which uses the Internet to actively recruit the talent needed by area employers. The partners in the initiative are the City — with 10,000 employees, one of the largest employers in the Central Texas region — the Austin American-Statesman, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and Hire.com, the world's leading e-recruiting software provider.

The community-wide online recruiting concept was the product of a June 1999 Greater Austin@Work Summit in which area employers, educators, community and government leaders focused on a shortage of qualified workers as their greatest workforce challenge. At the time of the Summit, the Austin American Statesman was developing a new range of online recruitment tools designed to complement its print classified ads. Identifying a shared goal, the leaders of the Summit collaborated with the Statesman to launch an extension of its online services called AustinAtWork.com.

The publisher of the Statesman, Mike Laosa, says his newspaper's classified advertising pages continue to be the first choice of Austin employers with job openings to fill, and sees the launch of AustinAtWork.com as "consistent with Austin's "wired' climate." Because the new Web site extends the paper's reach beyond Austin, "We are now going to deliver candidates from around the state, the U.S., and wherever there is Web access," he says.

The software that supports AustinAtWork.com, developed by Hire.com, allows employers to locate and screen prospective employees on a real-time basis. It invites both active and passive (anonymous) job seekers to scan for jobs or to submit a skills profile, all in confidence. Postings and profiles are then matched, based on several criteria — a service unique to this software, according to Hire.com's chairman and top executive, Jim Hammock. When a match is found, both the job seeker and the employer are notified.

Employers also may conduct on-line interviews with applicants and may even test their professional skills: A computer programmer, for example, could be asked to solve a programming problem.

Austin's overall workforce development initiative, the Greater Austin@Work Partnership, funds and promotes workforce development in Central Texas through various types of support provided by corporate, education and community partners. Seed money contributed by corporate partners is used to finance workforce development projects in the city; education and community partners promote AustinAtWork.com by providing links from their Web sites, thereby enlarging the stream of candidates flowing into the talent pool. Many of the partners are promoting AustinAtWork.com through free signage and other marketing tools. Among the partners are Dell Computer Corporation, KTBC-TV Fox 7, the University of Texas at Austin, the Capital Area Workforce Development Board, and Travis County.

In return for their contributions, members of the Greater Austin@Work Partnership benefit from discounted rates for postings on the Statesman's AustinAtWork.com portal and other print and on-line benefits including a featured place on the web site and recognition at appropriate related events.

In conjunction with the workforce development initiative, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce's Capital Area Training Foundation is using employer contributions to provide technology training and Internet access for underemployed adults, and summer internships for high school students.

AustinAtWork.com is off to a flying start. Over 1,000 jobs have been posted, over 20,000 candidates (15 percent of whom are from outside the area) are in the system, and the workforce training fund has grown to $150,000. Program officials say that using these private sector contributions to leverage additional funds should make it possible to announce within a couple of months that another after-hours adult technology training program will be opening in one of the area's high schools.

Writing in the Austin American-Statesman on June 26, Mayor Watson asserted that "Greater Austin, like every successful economic region in this global economy, is at a point of historic transition. We are challenged not so much by the need to recruit more companies, but more by our ability to retain, develop and attract talented people to power this technology-driven economy. We must do things differently. For years, we gathered companies up like badges of honor and — you know what? — it worked. Here we are with awards such as Forbes magazine's "Best Place for Business." We did it. Now what?"

The answer, the Mayor says, is found in initiatives such as the Greater Austin@Work Partnership and AustinAtWork.com through which "Creative people will have access to Austin employers, and all Austinites will have access to lifetime opportunities in the new economy."

Additional information on the Austin initiatives is available from Kristen Vassallo in the Mayor's office at (512) 499-6049, or from Larry Warshaw at Hire.com, (512) 583-4743.    

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