YOUNGSTOWN – A program to move unemployed Ohioans into jobs and fill workforce gaps that was piloted in Cuyahoga County last year is coming to the Mahoning Valley in the next 30 to 60 days.
The Youngstown-Warren region is one of four new communities where JobsOhio plans to launch Ohio to Work. The initiative comes as some employment sectors are struggling to fill openings, a problem before COVID-19 that the pandemic has exacerbated.
According to data compiled for Team NEO, a regional economic development agency affiliated with JobsOhio, there were 7,500 net new job postings between Dec. 19, 2020, and March 18.
“Job postings year over year are probably only down in the 5% to 10% range and are starting to grow again,” says Jacob Duritsky, Team NEO vice president, research and strategy.
Registered nurse remains the most in-demand occupation in the Youngstown-Warren metropolitan statistical area, with 472 postings during the 90-day period. Also among the top 10 positions were licensed practical and vocational nurses and nursing assistants.
Second to RNs are openings for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (411), “a trend that was growing already. And certainly in the way we consume goods through the pandemic had been amplified,” Duritsky says.
Following RNs and truck drivers are retail salespersons (288), manufacturing sales representatives (199) and laborers and freight, stock and materials movers (194), “a function of the Amazon economy,” he says.
“When we look at some of the job demand that we still see, relative to the pandemic, it hasn’t changed that much from what we could have seen year-over-year pre-pandemic,” Duritsky says. However, it accelerated existing labor gaps in sectors such as health care, information technology and factory work.
Christine Nelson, Team NEO vice president, says the Ohio to Work program is about getting local partners to connect displaced workers to available jobs.
“What we wanted to do was meet the community where it was, bring those partners together and be able to provide value, add and scale things that were already working,” she says.
Work on the Cleveland pilot program began shortly after the pandemic hit and several businesses were closed as a result. Millions of Ohioans were out of work. Those who lacked college degrees as well as minorities were disproportionately affected, Nelson says.
“We already were struggling with the short supply of critical skills and employers were struggling to find talent,” she says.
The pilot program last fall included marketing and outreach to provide awareness of opportunities, as well as providing “tech-enabled tools and innovation” to local partners who were engaging directly with displaced workers, Nelson says.
In Cuyahoga County, Team NEO also worked directly with coaches from OhioMeansJobs, the Urban League and Goodwill Industries, assisting them with “the latest tools and business intelligence,” including a monthly report that provided real-time information on hiring, she says.
Workers were offered opportunities to retrain or upgrade their existing skills to qualify for in-demand positions.
“It took people who were out of work and needed maybe reskilled or maybe had skills and needed a new opportunity,” Duritsky says.
In three weeks, Team NEO engaged 50 employers with immediate needs. During the 100-day pilot, 81 job-seekers were enrolled in reskilling and about 30 were placed in jobs, Nelson says.
“We’re excited. We had two cohorts graduating last week from training and moving into internships,” she adds.
The Youngstown area is one of four markets where JobsOhio is introducing the program. Others are Toledo, Columbus and Dayton/Cincinnati.
In preparing to launch the program here, Team NEO is working with local partners such as Youngstown State University and Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition to see how they are addressing workforce needs and working with OhioMeansJobs.
“We want to get it started quickly,” Nelson says. “We’re trying to get our hands around what’s there. Working with those partners will be the next step to build out what we can do.”
One of the leaders in the tech apprenticeship space is the YSU IT Workforce Accelerator in partnership with IBM, Duritsky says.
That program is another local partner engaged with Ohio to Work, says Jennifer Oddo, executive director for the Center for Workforce Education and Innovation at YSU. The center already is working with Youngstown Area Goodwill Industries, Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership, Flying High Inc. and Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.
“We’re engaging lots of cohorts,” Oddo says. “In 2021 alone, we’ve registered more than 50 new students though these cohort models.”
The Center for Workforce Education and Innovation at YSU will hold virtual career fairs this month and in May in conjunction with Ohio to Work, General Motors and Ultium.
YSU will use a portion of the $5 million it received from GM as part of the carmaker’s settlement with the state over incentives at its shuttered Lordstown plant to provide access to the career fairs at venues such as local libraries.
“We’re also working with Ultium to develop pre-apprenticeship training to help the community get ready for jobs in the EV industry,” Oddo says.
Among other organizations JobsOhio is working with is the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. “The business community connection is important to make this work,” Nelson says.
The chamber’s role is to connect local businesses with the workforce development organizations, Team NEO and JobsOhio, says Guy Coviello, chamber president and CEO.
“It’s important to understand that we have a serious need. If you look at the amount of population decline we experienced in recent years and then look at the amount of new jobs coming online over the next few years, we’re going to have some real challenges,” he says. “This is a good problem and it will help us meet the needs of the employers.”
Team NEO has not set objectives for how many local workers it plans to assist through the initiative, Nelson says.
The statewide goal over two years is to serve 60,000 job seekers, putting 5,000 through reskilling and placing 14,000.
“We haven’t gotten down to the point of breaking down what we want to do in each market because the market will tell us what that looks like,” she says.