Education

Manufacturers Coalition Learns Efforts Paying Off

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CANFIELD, Ohio — Manufacturers in the five-county region say the effort to increase awareness and attract younger people to the industrial workforce is gaining momentum.

“We’re moving the needle when it comes to the demand versus supply equation,” says Jessica Borza, sector partnership coordinator for the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, a segment of the Oh-Penn Manufacturing Collaborative. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

The organization, formed four years ago to stimulate interest in and replenish an aging industrial workforce, has succeeded in obtaining grant money critical to fund training programs, internships, and other work-based learning initiatives.

“We’ve been successful in attracting that because we’ve had a plan from the beginning,” Borza said following the coalition’s annual membership meeting Friday at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center. The action plan allowed the organization and its membership to target funding that would best suit gaps that area companies see in training, hiring, recruitment and workforce development.

Among the most recent were two federal grants that total $3.5 million to Eastern Gateway Community College to build a precision machining and welding lab in Youngstown. The coalition plans to pursue an additional $50,000 state grant that would fund a feasibility study for the project.

The grant is administered through the Local Government Innovation Fund of the Ohio Department of Development; the city of Youngstown served as the lead applicant. Youngstown City Council approved legislation that allowed the grant application to move forward.

Borza reports a decision on that funding should be forthcoming by the end of next week.

The new training center is intended to be a shared facility among Eastern Gateway, Youngstown State University, career and technical schools, and the area’s manufacturers, says Dante Zambrini, interim vice president of Eastern Gateway’s Valley campus

“We’ve needed a machining program,” he says. “We’re very excited.”

Eastern Gateway is scouting for an existing building to house the new center, but hasn’t made a decision, Zambrini says. The feasibility study would determine the cost of installing equipment, retrofitting and remodeling the site chosen.

Classroom work related to the new machining program is scheduled to begin in the fall semester, and Eastern Gateway wants the center in place by the start of the spring semester in 2016.

“We are hopeful that it [the state grant] will be approved and we should be able to start that work immediately,” Borza says.

A shared lab in Youngstown makes sense because it creates synergy between advanced manufacturing programs at YSU and traditional machining programs offered through Eastgate and other institutions, Borza says.

A consortium of area manufacturing interests, educational institutions, and workforce development organizations formed the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition nearly four years ago to address the skills gap in the regional labor force. It has since joined with the Oh-Penn Manufacturing Collaborative, a regional effort that comprises Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio, and Lawrence and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania.

This year, the coalition will continue with programs such as the Educator in the Manufacturing Workplace, the educator manufacturing “boot camp,” and other events targeted at students, parents, teachers and administrators as well as other manufacturers, Borza reports.

“Our focus in the coming year is really on our career pathway design, and some of our recommendations in curriculum improvement and new programs are implemented,” she says. Among them is a manufacturing readiness program that prepares individuals for entry-level training through the organization’s career pathway model.

“We piloted some of those and we’re going to continue to improve those in the coming year,” Borza remarks.

Kyle Kiraly, controller at Kiraly Tool & Die, Youngstown, says the coalition is making progress in its efforts to encourage young people to consider careers in manufacturing and rebrand the image of the industrial workplace.

“It’s not the dirty, grimy workplace that you may have pictured before,” he says. “Now, it’s a technologically advanced workplace where you’re using the latest and greatest technology,” he says, such as 3-D printing.

Advanced technology helps motivate younger people to get involved, Kiraly observes.

Issues remain with the local workforce that need to be addressed, he allows, and many of the programs the manufactures coalition supports are just now taking hold.

“The schools are just beginning to change their curriculum and getting on board with really what we need skills-wise as manufacturers,” he says. “In the next two to three years, we’re going to see a change with the workforce that’s available to us now and the skills that will be met from the up and coming workforce entering these programs.”

Pictured: Members of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition learn the progress of their efforts at the group’s annual meeting Friday.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.