YOUNGSTOWN – New programs and partnerships look to address one of the key issues facing manufacturers in the Mahoning Valley: recruiting workers. Members of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition outlined some of those programs during their virtual quarterly meeting March 31.
MVMC Executive Director Jessica Borza said the 2021 priorities for the coalition are recruitment and workforce development. As the coalition works to leverage its network to achieve those priorities, she encouraged members to work together to roll out “new and creative ways” to help employers with recruitment needs.
MVMC is talking with area companies who are willing to hire entry-level workers and consider them for apprenticeship training. It is connecting schools with companies looking to hire graduates.
“We have been able to tap into TechCred funding,” Borza said. “That’s now available to support apprenticeship programs. So that’s another way to offset the cost of apprenticeships and we know there is more state funding coming down the pike.”
Central to MVMC recruitment efforts is youth outreach to strengthen the direct connection between students and manufacturers, thereby increasing the pool of candidates to fill high-demand jobs, Borza said. Such efforts include high school pre-apprenticeship programs, the WorkAdvance program, company ambassadors and The Business Journal’s Brain Gain Navigators program, for which MVMC is a sponsor.
Trumbull Career and Technical Center looks to increase interest among high school students through a pilot WorkAdvance program, said Anina Karlovic, career tech supervisor. The school had been doing one at the adult level and was approached a few weeks ago for the high school pilot, she said.
The WorkAdvance program creates an “accelerated pre-apprenticeship into industrial maintenance” for students who participate, Karlovic said.
TCTC struggles to get high school students interested in manufacturing training because of the stigma that it’s dirty and dangerous. With the pilot program, they assembled a cohort of five students who were excelling in their academics and displayed a mechanical aptitude – two are studying construction at TCTC, one is in the auto service program, another in welding and one in electrical technologies.
The students are in the second week of the program. “They’ve been really receptive to it,” Karlovic said. “I’m glad that some kids took that leap of faith to leave their comfort zone this time of the year.”
As TCTC adjusts the program to more of a high school focus, the students provide “invaluable” feedback, Karlovic said. She was surprised how they responded to employability coaching, which she thought would be the part they dread the most.
“They look forward to that day,” Karlovic said. “They love the coaches and do stuff with them.”
After completing the program, the students are able to pursue employment at Extrudex Aluminum Inc. in North Jackson. The next recruitment push for the program will be for General Extrusions Inc. in Youngstown, Borza noted.
“We are constantly working with employers who are willing to hire entry level employees,” she said, and to train the students to develop their skills.
Diversity and inclusion is another key priority for MVMC. The coalition looks to lead the region in support of national efforts to develop a manufacturing workforce that’s more reflective of the community by taking tangible actions to increase equity and parity, to create pathways to job opportunities for people of color.
One initiative is the WISE Pathways program being rolled out by Eastern Gateway Community College. WISE stands for Women in Sustainable Employment. It is a program designed by the Elyria-based HHW Ohio, formerly known as Hard Hatted Women.
WISE raises awareness of nontraditional careers for women, including construction, energy and utilities, public safety and manufacturing, said Amelia Taggart, associate director workforce development – industrial trades at EGCC.
It also teaches them about training opportunities, identifies the core life skills essential to success in specific fields, determines the steps needed to reach individual goals and helps the students prepare for testing, job applications and interviews, Taggart said.
Part of the program is also breaking down barriers women may face in accessing training opportunities, she added. The WISE program seeks to identify wraparound services for the women, such as child care and resources for transportation.
EGCC is developing the WISE program locally and has spoken with several of MVMC partners to ensure the women have employers with whom they can seek employment. EGCC is also working with other partners to identify recruitment opportunities.
Taggart spoke with Evelyn Ross, bailiff at Youngstown Municipal Court, about connecting with low-level offenders in Judge Carla Baldwin’s drug court program. For some, participating in drug court can take 12 to 36 months, Taggart said.
“That’s a two-year associate degree they could be earning in that time,” she said.
To assist those participants in working to attain sustainable employment, EGCC looks to organize boot camps at the Excellence Training Center at Youngstown State University, where the community college will move its machining and industrial maintenance labs. EGCC plans to start moving equipment there in the second week of May, Taggart said.
EGCC also will organize trips to area employers so they can see the work being done. And because Wise Pathways is an accredited program, those who complete it earn a National Career Readiness Certificate, which they can use to enroll in programs at EGCC. These include machinist, CNC machine operator, welder, industrial maintenance or computer-aided drafting.
They can also pursue a two-year degree, or follow a path to a four-year degree, Taggart noted.
MVMC is investing in a contract for an organization or more than one organization to lead grassroots recruiting efforts for programs like WorkAdvance and WISE Pathways, Borza said. Efforts would include going out into the community to raise awareness of career pathways and correct misconceptions about manufacturing work, she said.
To create a career coaching center, MVMC will use a portion of $1.5 million in funding allocated to MVMC, America Makes and Brite Energy Innovators from the $12 million General Motors tax clawback, Borza added. MVMC looks to develop a fellows program for career coaches, guidance counselors, case managers and student advisers to share information about careers in modern manufacturing, she said.
MVMC partners also are focusing efforts on instructor recruitment for local educational entities, including career and technical schools. The Mahoning County Career and Technical Center’s Adult Career Center supervisor Mary Angela Mihalopoulos and superintendent John Zehentbauer are working on developing a program to recruit individuals who have worked in trades.
Participants would be trained on virtual learning tools, how to create a syllabus and lesson plan, what textbook materials are needed and teacher ethics, Mihalopoulos said. They will be assigned a mentor.
Graduates can then pursue employment.
“I think this is going to be beneficial for all of us,” said Art Daly, EGCC senior vice president for the Youngstown campus.
During the meeting, MVMC’s Borza took a moment to recognize Bert Cene, who has retired as executive director of the Mahoning & Columbiana Training Association. Mary Ann Kolchalko, chief operating officer, succeeds Cene.
Cene complimented the work the MVMC has done over the years, and commended Borza’s leadership of the coalition. He encouraged MVMC members to continue collaborating to solve the issues facing regional employers.
“No one entity can solve these issues on their own. One of the things that the Mahoning Valley brings is great partnerships,” Cene said. “I think we have done a lot of good things. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished.”