As Central Texas sees company relocations and expansions, there’s a demand for talent. But what are companies doing as the typical pipelines aren’t filling the needed slots like they used to?
That topic came up during the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association annual conference and expo this week.
KXAN reports that semiconductor chips manufacturer Applied Materials noted that their needs now extend beyond partnerships with four-year schools like The University of Texas at Austin.
That’s where others such as Austin Community College and Skillpoint Alliance come in.
Skillpoint CEO Kevin Brackmeyer talked to Austonia about how their group’s free program is designed to replicate working at a manufacturing plant over the course of six weeks.
Earlier this year, the nonprofit reported a class with a record number of women, and has continued attracting others often through word of mouth, Brackmeyer said. Many are drawn to the program due to its rapid pace and the chance it offers to become qualified for a job without getting saddled with debt.
“This benefits our students who need to find employment quickly, and also fill those positions that employers are desperate to fill,” Brackmeyer said.
Attracting people who are ready to work is just the first hurdle. Austin has become a hot spot for young workers, so figuring out what these employees value is critical.
Brackmeyer said that when it comes to retaining young or early career workers, it helps to lay out a trajectory of where the job is headed so that they can feel like they’re building a career. And while professional development is a big ticket item, Brackmeyer said there are even more job qualities that are important for people who start out with training at Skillpoint.
“Doing things like offering great benefits, great pay, flex time is important. Just things that show the employee that they matter,” Brackmeyer said. “I think students really want to feel part of the organization and want to be a part of something important and big.”
Looking ahead, Brackmeyer thinks there are areas outside of manufacturing where Skillpoint’s programs can aid in funneling talent that’s hard to get elsewhere.
“In Taylor, they have to build that facility and they're going to need electricians, they're going to need plumbers and they're gonna need HVAC technicians, so there's a lot of opportunity,” Brackmeyer said.
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The 40-hour workweek has reigned since around the time of the Great Depression. But a new schedule gaining steam could lead some companies to throw out the practice of having employees clock in five days a week.
Promising results are coming out halfway into a six-month trial of four-day workweeks in the U.K. with 35 out of 41 companies responding to a recent survey saying they were “likely” or “very likely” to continue the reduced week after the pilot ends.
The trial, which began in June, is run by nonprofit 4 Day Week Global, think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Boston College and Oxford University. It involves 3,300 workers across 72 companies who are trying out one paid day off per week between Monday and Friday.
During the four-day week, 34% of companies reported that productivity “improved slightly” and 15% say it “improved significantly.”
With the survey indicating that a four-day workweek could have some perks for companies and employees alike, will Austin join in on the trend?
On job searching tools like LinkedIn and Indeed, some jobs based in Central Texas are boasting a four-day work week. And Coltech Global, a recruiting firm based in London with a growing presence in Austin, began the four-day work week about a year ago.
Jessica Sutcliffe, a staffing consultant at Coltech, joined the company to help grow the U.S. market. She says due to the time difference between the U.S. team and the UK one, the company implemented a four-day week.
"I’ve found it very beneficial as it allows time to rest and complete life admin, whilst also enjoying life, travel and be able to come back to work rested/fulfilled outside of work, which ultimately helps focus inside of those core work hours," Sutcliffe said via email.
In an Instagram post, Coltech said that not only are employees feeling the benefits of being more refreshed in the mornings, having reduced illness and a less stressed atmosphere, but it’s also improving their carbon footprint since there’s less time spent traveling to the office and using energy.
Niki Jorgensen, director of service operations at human resources service provider Insperity, noted similar factors driving companies to make the change to a reduced work week.
“The most significant benefit for a company to adopt the four-day workweek is the improvement of employee morale,” Jorgensen told Austonia via email. “Over the past two years, numerous studies have shown employees think a four-day workweek reduces stress and burnout. With reduced stress and burnout comes improved employee engagement.”
And while Austin is already drawing in plenty of workers who are in their early careers, a four-day week may help companies stand out to that bracket’s top talent even more.
“Companies can leverage this to make their company more appealing, especially to younger generations who strongly consider factors outside of compensation when choosing employment,” Jorgensen said.
She went on to offer a few tips for making a smooth transition to a four-day week like setting expectations and staggering coverage so that it’s still possible to see clients five days a week. Also, employers should be flexible. She says some employees may not be able to get 40 hours of work done in a shorter week due to responsibilities like childcare, so employers should consider how they can still accomplish their duties.
Before ditching the 40-hour workweek though, it can help to take a temperature check to see if an extra day off is the right fit for the workplace.
“Do not implement a flexible schedule such as the four-day workweek if business owners and managers cannot commit to the level of trust and flexibility needed to ensure the schedule’s success,” Jorgensen said.
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Austin-based company Apptronik is developing a humanoid robot and is teaming up with NASA to get it done.
The robot, named Apollo, is poised to be one of the first humanoids available in commercial markets and is expected to reach broader availability next year. Currently, its first prototype is complete at the company’s headquarters on Stonehollow Dr. in North Austin.
Apollo will be capable of doing a wide range of tasks. Apptronik says this ability as a general-purpose robot will help workers in industries like logistics, retail, hospitality, aerospace and more.
Apptronik was founded in 2016 out of the Human Centered Robotics Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. Argodesign, a firm with offices in New York, abroad and near South Congress, on Gibson Street, was selected as a partner in designing Apollo. In a press release, Apptronik said the team’s focus now is to scale Apollo so that it’s customer-ready in 2023.
Apptronik first partnered with NASA in 2013 during a robotics challenge where founders were selected to work on NASA’s Valkyrie Robot.
Now that the agency has selected Apptronik as a commercial partner, a new generation of robots for terrestrial and extraterrestrial use is expected to launch, with Apollo leading the way.
Jeff Cardenas, CEO and co-founder of Apptronik, expressed excitement over the continued investment from NASA.
“The robots we’ve all dreamed about are now here and ready to get out into the world,” Cardenas said. “These robots will first become tools for us here on Earth, and will ultimately help us move beyond and explore the stars.”
Apptronik describes Austin as a growing hub for robotics and is recruiting talent, with several openings based here for roles in design, software engineering, operations and other tasks.
Aside from Apptronik, another Austin company is pushing hard on humanoid robots. Tesla is expected to unveil a prototype of its bot, known as Optimus, during its AI day on Sept. 30. The company may also work to deploy thousands of these bots in their factories, job postings indicate.
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