Team NEO Report Shows Inequities in Workforce

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The gap between the number of qualified workers and the demand for them by growing industries in northeastern Ohio could be closed significantly if the racial inequities across the workforce were better addressed, according to a new report from Team NEO.

In its 2021 edition of the Misaligned Opportunities report, the regional economic development agency outlines the impact that racial inequity has on the area’s workforce.

“If we fix this DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] issue, just through proportional representation of the population that we have, we could close the talent gap by up to a third,” said Jacob Duritsky, Team NEO’s vice president of strategy and research, in a webinar discussing the report’s findings. “That’s incredibly powerful in an economy like northeast Ohio.”

While overall population and employment are fairly similar – 77% of the regional population and 80% of employees are White, compared to 14% and 12% for Black people – gaps can be seen in levels of educational attainment, especially in the region’s three fastest growing sectors: manufacturing, health care and technology.

In manufacturing, for example, 72% of postsecondary credentials are held by White workers, while just 4% are held by Black employees, 4% by Hispanic and Latino employees and 3% by Asian workers.

In health care, 76% of such credentials are held by White employees, compared to 8% by Black people, 5% by Asian workers and 4% by Hispanic and Latino employees.

And in computer and IT fields, the differences are less extensive, but still wide: 62% of credentials are held by White employees and 6% by both Black and Asian employees.

“African Americans comprised less than 5% of registered nursing credentials in northeast Ohio last year. The challenge is that we can’t fill holes like registered nurses, one of the most critical occupations in the region,” Duritsky said. “When you look at opportunities in the workplace, Hispanics and African Americans are only 10% of credentials.”

Addressing the racial skills gap will take a concerted, multi-factor approach, panelists said.

“Many times, it might not just come to you because you have a DEI goal or department or some initiative. You  have to look and identify key organizations [to work with],” said Terrell Dillard, president of ZayMat Distributors and Jan-Pro of Cleveland, Akron and Toledo. 

Victor Ruiz, executive director of mentoring and family support organization Esperanza Inc., pointed to work his organization has done to help companies start building their own pipeline of Latino workers.

“[There’s] homegrown, Latinx talent that’s bilingual and well-educated and wants to stay here. You have talent here; you don’t have to recruit all over the world,” he said. “We may need to create specific strategies and pay special attention to specific parts of the region so all of it can prosper.”

Such efforts can’t just start with adults, added Debbie Connelly, chief people officer for Hyland Software.

“It’s not only looking at experienced talent but it’s broadening your search at the entry level as well, whether it’s through groups like the National Association of Black Engineers or the National Association of Women Sales Professionals or the Association of Latino Professionals in America, as well as other organizations in our communities.”

As Duritsky noted earlier in the presentation, skill development doesn’t begin as soon as someone turns 18. Erasing educational gaps that start as early as elementary school can take years and by taking a vested interest in the education and training of students, the region’s employers can have a larger, more diverse pool of employees to choose from.