Commentary: Ohio To Work Surpasses Employment Goals

By Jessica Borza, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, and Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber

The data confirming the success of Ohio To Work tell one story. But even more impact is evident in the individual anecdotes from job seekers finding employment and the Mahoning Valley service providers developing long-lasting relationships with one another that will long outlive the 18-month JobsOhio workforce development initiative.

Ohio To Work was a statewide effort funded and organized by JobsOhio as part of an economic recovery strategy coming out of the pandemic. It targeted five regions – Mahoning Valley among them – and underrepresented populations that were negatively impacted more than others.

More than 40 local employers in manufacturing, health care and technology committed to hiring those identified through this initiative.

Its core objective? To get employees back to work for Ohio’s employers.

175% Over its Goal in Job Offers Made

The local results? More than 34,000 job seekers inquired and were connected to career development resources. An additional 1,600 were enrolled in a training program to prepare for a good-paying job. And 1,758 individuals were offered positions with participating employers.

All three metrics far surpassed the program’s goals. Statewide, it was a similar goal-crushing performance.

Ohio To Work recognized that the people and organizations that do this work were already in place. Ohio To Work was not created to develop something new, but rather to leverage and amplify the efforts being done every day by places like OhioMeansJobs Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties, National Center for Urban Solutions , United Returning Citizens and Flying High Inc.

Eastern Gateway Community College and our local career tech education centers were critical, too. They all turned out to be our strategic partners in the Mahoning Valley execution of Ohio To Work. While these organizations, many with similar missions, have collaborated prior to this initiative, new synergies emerged that helped strengthen and develop a much more cohesive partnership.

Bringing the effort all together with project leadership and coordination were the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. Team NEO also played a role locally as a business engagement partner.

Putting a Face to Ohio To Work

One individual who found a new career from Ohio To Work is Bernard Jones Jr. of Youngstown. The formerly incarcerated Jones was connected through the initiative to partner organizations URC and NCUS. He found both to be organizations more interested in his knowledge and will to learn than consumed by what he had done and already paid the price for from his past.

Jones was a model student in a work-readiness training program called WorkAdvance and ultimately landed an entry-level job at Ellwood Aluminum in Hubbard. He’s since turned that opportunity into multiple promotions and pay raises, and he regularly revisits NCUS to provide inspirational messages to new recruits going through that same training program.

What comes next?

The investment that JobsOhio made in the Mahoning Valley will have long-lasting benefits. While the Ohio To Work initiative is officially over, the workforce ecosystem that these dozens of local economic development organizations and education partners collaboratively built will continue through what we’re calling the Regional Workforce Coalition. That simply wouldn’t have happened without this initial Investment.

The timing of this success could not have been more important. We are projecting local job growth at a rate that far exceeds our historic national average. This generational opportunity spearheaded by JobsOhio to grow the state’s economy is having a tremendous impact in the Mahoning Valley.

Without the Ohio To Work program and the subsequent Regional Workforce Coalition, we would not be as prepared as we are for what we are about to experience.

The Mahoning Valley is much better prepared now to handle the training and education necessary for emerging technologies without disrupting current industries, as well as for entirely new industries that are starting to emerge in our market.

Jessica Borza is executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition; Guy Coviello is president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.