Jessica Borza, Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition

Manufacturers Coalition Adds Programs to Recruit Young Talent

CANFIELD, Ohio – The Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition is enhancing its potential to attract young people to jobs in the manufacturing sector, as the organization expands its partnerships and outreach efforts.

Part of this effort includes a grassroots initiative to encourage and develop young talent to become part of the manufacturing workforce.

“Through a grassroots approach, you build relationships,” says Wasilwa Mwonyonyi, career development coordinator and business developer for the National Center for Urban Solutions.  “You need this approach for workforce development.”

Mwonyonyi was one of the speakers at MVMC’s quarterly meeting Thursday at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center. It was the first in-person presentation by MVMC in two years.

The National Center for Urban Solutions uses a hands-on approach to mentor and coach prospective employees for careers in manufacturing, he related. This often entails communicating face-to-face with parents, their children, employers, and educational institutions in order to help prepare students or their family members for careers in manufacturing. 

Wasilwa Mwonyonyi, core development coordinator and business developer for the National Center for Urban Solutions.

“When you talk to a lot of manufacturing companies, they’re looking for certain characteristics that are going to have to be present – not just in an interview – but a level of consistency,” Mwonyonyi said. “We teach them about being accountable, we teach them about communication, what it means to collaborate.”

Among the most valuable services is career coaching, Mwonyonyi said.  Part of his duties is to help mentor and remove potential barriers for prospective employees who may have conflicts such as transportation or child care issues.

“I always tell them, ‘I’m your agent, I’m your manager,’” Mwonyonyi said.  “You have to tell me what’s going on, or this is not going to work.”

He related a story in which a client failed to show up during the first day of a job readiness training session.  “We went to his house and did a wellness check,” he said. The client was amazed that the coaches took the time to travel to his house to check up on him.

“You’re that important to us, and we want to see you do good,” Mwonyonyi said.  “We want to make sure everybody is accounted for and everybody has the opportunity to be successful.”

Not only is it vital to attract new employees to the manufacturing workforce, it’s also critical to provide resources so employees can upgrade their skill sets and advance their careers, Mwonyonyi said.

The National Center for Urban Solutions — which has service centers in Youngstown, Columbus, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — works with underserved populations to also provide career pathways in health care and information technology, he said.

It’s equally important for companies to put their name in front of students or families who otherwise might not be aware of the organization, Mwonyonyi said.  “Sponsor a local charter school. Have their name familiar with them,” he said. “Families will not only see that, but they’ll understand that you’re invested in them.”

One of the greatest assets of the Manufacturers Coalition – NCUS has been a partner for two years now — is the broad reach it provides through its membership of area manufacturers, economic development agencies and educational institutions, Mwonyonyi said.

That reach will become broader with youth outreach programs, said Jessica Borza, executive director. “We have action teams going to each one of the counties to identify additional opportunities to get the word out,” she said. 

The initiative calls for coalition representatives to attend events such as Silly Science Sunday, hosted by Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology.  Other ideas include a mobile educational unit that could visit schools, libraries, job fairs, and other venues to promote careers in manufacturing to young people.

“Our goal in this new strategy is to make sure we have hands-on activities for kids at all levels, so there can be a continuum of activities no matter what classroom we’re going to,” Borza said.

MVMC is looking for executives who work in manufacturing to serve as “career ambassadors” and carry the message across Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, added project manager Allison Engstrom.

“We’ve created a calendar of community events that we can connect with students and their parents in all three counties,” she said.

MVMC surveyed its membership to ascertain the best ways to deliver a strong manufacturing message to reach students ranging from elementary school through high school, Engstrom said.

“We’re going to be creating a great library of interactive videos, give presentations in schools, tours of manufacturers and hands-on activity,” she said. 

Some videos, for example, will highlight success stories of students, local manufacturers and career opportunities – all from the perspective of young people. “We’re working with the Columbiana County Education Service Center and the Columbiana County Port Authority to do this project,” Engstrom said.

MVMC this year will support the YWCA Summer Manufacturing Institute, Engstrom said. The coalition will help the Mahoning Valley YWCA arrange tours, develop hands-on activities and provide speakers for the program, which is targeted for girls in middle school.

“One of the myths is that manufacturing is just for men,” Engstrom said. “We want to get out in front of girls in middle school, before they reach high school, to open their eyes to different STEM opportunities that exist in manufacturing.”

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