YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The newest workforce development consortium in the Mahoning Valley is showing what can be done when job development groups pool their resources.
Youngstown Works has been operating only since August. The group made a splash March 29 with its first ever citywide job fair, drawing some 40 employers and educational entities, as well as hundreds of job seekers, to Stambaugh Auditorium.
Consortium members serve a variety of niche populations in the area. They include the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, MyPath Mahoning Valley, Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, United Returning Citizens, Flying High Inc., Community Corrections Association, Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership, Youngstown Area Goodwill Industries Inc., the Excellence Training Center at Youngstown State University and the Youngstown office of the National Center for Urban Solutions among others.
Educational entities such as YSU, Eastern Gateway Community College, and career and tech schools in the three-county region are also partners.
The idea for Youngstown Works formed during a Zoom call in February 2021, says Gerri Jenkins, executive director of MyPath Mahoning Valley. Representatives of about 70 agencies were on the call discussing what they do and more than a few focused on job development, she said.
“Every one has a piece and part of it,” Jenkins said. “What we decided to do was take all those pieces and parts of the puzzle and put it together into a consortium.”
Youngstown Works members first got together in July and started monthly meetings in August. Jenkins convened the partners with the goal of bringing together nonprofits in and around the city that had been operating independently toward developing the area’s workforce.
Since those first meetings, “This just grew legs,” Jenkins said.
“I didn’t think this would go this fast. To have an event like this in less than a year, I think, is pretty amazing,” she said. “This is a really good example of what can happen when we all work together.”
Beverly Hosey, community development director for the city’s Community Planning and Economic Development Department, said events like the job fair are important because workforce development is connected to housing, maintaining the city’s population and reducing poverty in the city.
When Jenkins approached her with the idea for the consortium and job fair, Hosey jumped at it.
The city used some of its Community Development Block Grant Cares Act dollars to fund the Youngstown Works consortium, Hosey said.
“Words cannot totally express how important this is,” she said. “We’re trying to make other changes in the city. So this economic development piece is so important.”
The consortium represents a holistic approach to addressing obstacles residents face when seeking employment, such as developing skill sets, finding child care and other socioeconomic issues, Hosey said.
“I think with the different involvement, with the different organizations, the different agencies, it’s going to automatically connect more and more. Connect the different pieces,” she said.
Christopher Allen, human resources manager at Ultium Cells LLC in Lordstown, was pleased to see how many employers participated in the inaugural event. Coming out of the pandemic, Allen is eager to see more job fairs get rolling again, he said.
“It’s good for the community, good for prospective candidates to come out and get opportunities that they maybe wouldn’t see,” he said.
Brittany Lloyd, HR coordinator for Ventra Salem – Flex-N-Gate in Salem, said the event was the fourth job fair she had been to this year and that it had the biggest turnout thus far.
Lloyd commended Youngstown Works on how it promoted the event, providing employers with marketing materials and messaging to distribute to their networks, she said.
Youngstown Works helped market the event to a wider audience and gives employers in differing industries an opportunity to network and refer job candidates.
“I may not reach my exact employee or my candidate, but so-and-so may know someone that’s exactly the right fit for the position that I have available,” Lloyd said.
That kind of networking is the key to Youngstown Works. Partner organizations may serve a specific niche of the regional population.
“We all see a variety and a diverse group of people all the time,” Jenkins said.
By bringing everyone together, organizations can refer residents to resources to put them in the best position to work a local job, she said.
“So no matter where they go to any of us in the consortium, we can refer them,” Jenkins said.
“It’s all about connecting the job-seekers with the employers and bringing in the education and training partners,” agreed Julie Michael Smith, project manager, Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition.
MVMC is the operations manager for the Ohio to Work Mahoning Valley, which connects job-seekers with manufacturing, health care and technology careers, Smith said. By coordinating with workforce development partners, the initiative helps residents overcome barriers to employment and prepares them for events like the Youngstown Works job fair with resumes and job-prep assistance.
“We have a very robust ecosystem here in the Mahoning Valley of many organizations that offer a variety of workforce development and career coaching services,” Smith said. “And while individually they do good work, being able to work together collectively and reinforce and amplify this ecosystem allows us to better communicate with the job-seekers, as well as the employers.”
Having that concerted effort is important for developing a workforce pipeline, said Jodi Glass, recruiter and marketing coordinator, Mahoning County Career and Technical Center adult career center.
Through Youngstown Works, Glass is hopeful MCCTC will see more referrals for residents looking to enroll.
“That is the pipeline that we need to fill,” she said. “These people are coming in with a need and they get referred to our school, that’s just going to keep our pipeline full of students.”
Glass is seeing more interest and inquiries about MCCTC’s adult programs than she did a year ago, she said, particularly with its first responder programs, automotive technology and welding. She hopes to see more interest in the school’s medical assistant program.
High school seniors are taking greater interest in MCCTC adult-ed programs for after they graduate, and that is very encouraging, she said.
“They’re understanding that there’s an increased need for technical training. And they’re realizing that maybe college isn’t for them or maybe it’s just not what they’re interested in,” Glass said. “And we offer that hands-on experience.”
Through Ohio to Work, MVMC can bring additional resources for its partners, including marketing support, as well as professional development and training to career coaches, Smith said.
“We all have a common goal here,” Smith said. “We all want to help residents of the Mahoning Valley secure sustainable, living-wage jobs, so they can remain here in our community, raise their families and enjoy good quality of life.”
National Center for Urban Solutions, or NCUS Youngstown, works closely with the MVMC and Ohio to Work to provide outreach to underserved populations, particularly African American communities.
Wasilwa Mwonyonyi, career development coordinator and business developer at NCUS Youngstown, and John Michael Oliver, a career coach for the organization, said they had “strong interest” from attendees for available manufacturing jobs.
NCUS Youngstown connects job-seekers with local employment in manufacturing, health care and information technology. The organization also provides opportunities for individuals to improve their talents to land local jobs and offers mentorship programs.
Youngstown Works can serve to augment those efforts through networking opportunities, Mwonyonyi said.
“Working with these other organizations, people filter into us. We send people their way with referrals,” he said. “We’re all on the same mission. We just offer different things.”
Being a part of Youngstown Works allows NCUS to reach out to those populations for consortium partners while advising those residents of opportunities at the same time.
“Like they say, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ A lot of people don’t know we’re here right now,” Mwonyonyi said. “All these people that are maybe unemployed or maybe want a better situation, they have to see a commercial, or you’ve got to go to the church, or you’ve got to go to the barber shop. You’ve got to go where they’re at.”
That kind of outreach is what NCUS specializes in. It has successfully helped more than 15,000 individuals gain employment, according to its website.
“We can assist any company. It doesn’t matter what industry it is,” he said. “We have the know-how. We have the secret sauce. We have the training. And we have the ability and the track record.”
MyPath’s Jenkins said having something for everyone under one roof helps address the so-called Great Resignation as well.
As people leave their jobs because they don’t feel they’re being treated fairly or equitably, Youngstown Works can help put them on the path to finding a new career locally, she said.
Jenkins said there is more in store for Youngstown Works. Other job fairs are on the horizon, as are other events and potential conferences, she said.
Ultimately, Jenkins hopes to bring more entities into the consortium, establish bylaws for membership and expand its overall footprint “from Youngstown Works to Mahoning Valley Works,” she said.
Pictured: Gerri Jenkins is the executive director of MyPath Mahoning Valley. Beverly Hosey is the city of Youngstown’s community development director.