MVMC Launches Roundtable Series on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

VIENNA, Ohio – Employers scrambling to fill jobs across the Mahoning Valley could greatly benefit from tapping into a rich talent pool made up of “hidden workers.” That is, those who are ready and willing to work but are often overlooked.

It’s a subject that the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition would like to call attention to, beginning with the first of a series of roundtables that explore diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.

On Tuesday, representatives of area manufacturers met at ClarkDietrich Building Systems to learn more about efforts to employ those with physical and developmental disabilities.

“They want to work,” said Ron Klonowski, business relations specialist with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. “That motivation isn’t always there today.”

The agency administers programs designed to help those with disabilities enter and thrive in the workforce. OOD connects employers with qualified job seekers, provides disability awareness training, connects employers with college students with disabilities seeking internships, and provides assistance with recruiting recent graduates.

The agency also prepares potential workers with disabilities with job coaching services, soft-skill and social skill development, Klonowski said. “My role is to form partnerships with employers who want to work with us,” he said.

Those with developmental or physical disabilities often defy stigmas, Klonowski said. Among the first exercises at the workshop was for businesses to share their personal experiences with someone with a disability.

Each manufacturer in the room either had a family member, friend, or knew someone with a disability. All attested to their strengths and the impact they’ve had on their lives.

Klonowski shared that his own son, now 26, was diagnosed with autism.  As a student, his son challenged many of his teacher’s first impressions of his capabilities.  “Teachers were hesitant,” he said. “But by the end of the year they were blown away at what he could do. He’s an inspiration.”

Dale Foerster, vice president at Starr Manufacturing Inc. in Vienna, recalls that eight years ago, the company hired two men with disabilities that worked three days a week. “They were fantastic,” she said.

Those with disabilities represent a segment of “hidden workers,” a term coined by a Harvard Business School study that examined how this workforce is woefully underutilized across the country. Others in this group include veterans, caregivers, immigrants and refugees, mental health, those from less-advantaged populations, those who were previously incarcerated, and those without traditional qualifications.

According to the study, conducted in 2020, 44% of middle-skill “hidden workers” reported that finding work was just as difficult during the pre-pandemic years as it was during Covid-19. 

“Our research revealed that long-standing and widespread management practices contribute significantly to constraining the candidates that companies will consider,” the report said, “leading to the creation of a diverse population of aspiring workers who are screened out of consideration – or ‘hidden.’”

Klonowski’s said it’s his responsibility to find qualified job seekers and match them with the needs of employers. 

“I am going to work with you, learn about your company, learn about your openings and what the requirements are, background checks,” he said.  Klonowski then takes this information to counselors at ODD, and they’ll in turn identify appropriate candidates for open positions.

Ultimately, it’s the employer’s decision to hire the candidate or not, he said. 

“All we’re asking is for the company to pull their resume and give them another look,” Klonowski said. “In today’s time, with everybody looking for employees, it’s another source out there for good quality employees.”

Tuesday’s discussion was the first of future roundtables and workshops that MVMC plans to host devoted to these topics.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion is important to MVMC so we’re thrilled so many people are supportive of this initiative,” said Allison Engstrom, project manager at MVMC.  “There’s this huge wide net of individuals who are eager to work. This is just the first of many roundtables we’ll hold.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.