YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The plant manager at ClarkDietrich Building Systems’ operations in Vienna faced a conundrum last year. His company was searching for a better way to build a bullpen of talent for the plant while simultaneously developing a program to elevate the skills of existing employees.
What the company was seeking was a strategy that could help ClarkDietrich with its needs and also highlight the importance of a career in manufacturing, says Chris Plant.
“For us, it was to have a partner that had a presence in the community that could help direct us to find people and help develop some of the people that we have here,” says Plant. “We have good-paying jobs here and put qualified candidates into these good-paying jobs.”
The partner ClarkDietrich found is the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, a group of regional manufacturers, educators and workforce development specialists formed 10 years ago to address workforce issues.
Plant says he is especially interested in the industrial maintenance and machinist training programs that the MVMC supports. “We’ve been working with the MVMC to get some employees through the WorkAdvance program. And we’re working with them to get some enrolled in the industrial maintenance program.”
The ClarkDietrich plant in Vienna manufactures cold-formed steel framing products and accessories used mostly in the construction industry. It employs about 120.
“We’re a big proponent of in-house talent,” Plant says. “Being able to have a partner to develop talent – these are local people who are going to invest in the community.”
ClarkDietrich is among the more recent manufacturers to join the MVMC, organized in 2011 in response to growing concerns about the shrinking labor pool within the manufacturing sector.
Since it was established, the coalition has enlisted 49 area manufacturers as members, along with 41 education partners and workforce development organizations. It has also secured more than $24.2 million in grant funding used to support training programs such as apprenticeships, work advancement and curriculum-development initiatives.
“It’s about the improvements we’ve made in our workforce system,” says Jessica Borza, executive director of MVMC. “We’ve been able to create processes that identify the needs of industry and then assess them against the programs we have in place.”
These needs are shifting as industry becomes more technologically advanced, Borza says.
For example, the coalition is in the early stages of working with Ultium Cells LLC, which is building a $2.3 billion electric-vehicle battery manufacturing plant in Lordstown.
“They’ve got some strategies in place for production operators. And we’re interested in understanding about their higher-level positions as well,” Borza says.
Initiatives such as MVMC industrial maintenance apprenticeship and training programs could serve Ultium and its needs, Borza says. Other initiatives underway are to improve training in automation and robotics with the coalition’s education and industrial partners, she says. The coalition has created or improved 25 programs.
Ten years ago, few of these programs existed – or at least were underused. Today, Borza says, MVMC members recognize how their organization has helped to cultivate the next generation of manufacturing workforce.
“They appreciate having the talent pipeline through the pre-apprenticeship program and through our WorkAdvance program that didn’t exist before,” she says.
The key is to build on these successes with more aggressive efforts in youth outreach and initiatives to drive more inclusion and diversity in the manufacturing sector, Borza says. “I think word is spreading across the state of what’s called an industry sector partnership,” she says.
The coalition hosted a 10th anniversary celebration Dec. 2 at Waypoint 4180 in Canfield. Among the guests was keynote speaker Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Department of Development, who lauded MVMC as a template for Ohio and the country. “You are absolutely a model,” Mihalik said. “You have gathered this group of private-sector folks and said, ‘We are in control of our own destiny,’ ” she told the audience of about 200.
Other speakers affirmed the coalition is leading Ohio and the nation.
“We needed manufacturers to get organized,” said Brian Augsburger, president of the Ohio Manufacturers Association. “No one has done that and no one had done that better than the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition,” he said. “They did it first. They’re doing it better than anyone else in the country, not just in Ohio.”
Among its successes, the coalition recently reported that it has helped to register 300 apprentices over a five-year period through the Greater Oh-Penn Manufacturing Apprentice Network. The broad initiative covers six counties in northeastern Ohio and eight counties in western Pennsylvania. Eighteen MVMC manufacturers participated in the program.
“A core tenet was to build sustaining programs,” Borza says. “There were quite a few programs that were either built from scratch or improved as a result of the effort.”
For many manufacturers, the work of the coalition has been critical to the expansion of the industrial workforce in the region and its businesses.
When the country emerged from a devastating financial crisis in 2011, local manufacturers faced an added dilemma: the once clogged pipeline of trained industrial workers was drying up. As those with experience retired, businesses were confronted with the disconcerting possibility of not having a qualified workforce to replace them.
Then Brian Benyo, the president of Brilex Industries and Taylor Winfield Technologies, had an idea – better yet, an “epiphany moment,” as he describes it.
In the fall of 2011, Benyo and his companies were struggling to lure new talent because of intense competition with similar industries and a then-booming oil and gas industry. He realized there was a lack of coordination between local manufacturers and training providers, and that this misalignment was costing businesses in the long run.
“We had lost all momentum in attracting the flow of new entrants in manufacturing and career training pathways,” Benyo says.
Initially, he thought help would come from either Columbus or Washington in the form of new programs designed to rescue industry and manufacturing in the region.
The “epiphany” hit him while bow hunting.
“It wasn’t the obligation of our training providers. And it wasn’t the obligation of our elected officials to solve this problem,” Benyo says. Instead, it was industry’s responsibility to tackle it.
The situation spurred Benyo to write a letter to a core number of manufacturers to form a group that could address these pressing issues.
“Everybody wanted to be a part of the solution,” he recalls. Companies such as Starr Manufacturing in Vienna, City Machine Technologies and M7 Technologies in Youngstown, Butech Bliss in Salem, Compco Industries in Columbiana, and Specialty Fab in North Lima were among the 18 ground-floor members that established the coalition.
“I take the credit for starting the idea and getting the ball rolling,” Benyo says. “But we had a lot of great companies, a lot of great individual leadership behind us.”
Perhaps one of the most significant actions the group took was to hire an executive director, Borza, who could coordinate and leverage the collective power of the MVMC.
“We started talking about how he could organize the manufacturers to have a more common voice and common agenda,” Borza says of Benyo. The conversation eventually expanded to comprise aligning education, training and job opportunities with the needs of local industry.
The MVMC soon expanded to include education partners such as Eastern Gateway Community College, the Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana career and technical centers, and Choffin Career & Technical Center. The MVMC has since served nearly 200 pre-apprentices and has reached 8,562 young people this year through its outreach programs.
Looking ahead to the next 10 years, Borza says the coalition’s goals are to expand its workforce development programs by adapting to the technological changes in industry, such as advanced manufacturing, robotics and cybersecurity.
MVMC, for example, is working closely with the Manufacturing Advocacy Growth Network, or Magnet, as its workforce development partner to assess credentials and training for positions that may require more technical knowledge.
“We know that manufacturers need to modernize with new technologies in order to be competitive,” Borza says, citing opportunities for companies to become involved in supply chains with the defense industry. “Part of our responsibility is to make sure that our manufacturers are connected with resources like Magnet, and that we’re doing our part on the workforce front, too.”
Developing the industrial workforce for the future is critical to the local economy and the earning power of Mahoning Valley residents, Borza says.
“I hope we are changing more and more lives by getting people connected with manufacturing careers,” she says.
Pictured at top: Ryan Ausberger, president of the Ohio Manufacturers Association; Lydia Mihalik, director of the Ohio Department of Development; Jessica Borza, executive director of MVMC; Eric Burkland, president emeritus of the OMA; and Brian Benyo, president of Brilex Industries and MVMC member, attend the 10th anniversary dinner at Waypoint4180 in Canfield.