New ‘Ohio to Work’ Program Unifies Valley’s Job Development Efforts

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The newly announced expansion of the Ohio to Work program will bring greater collaboration between businesses, nonprofits that provide job training, education centers and other local organizations.

The ultimate goal of the program, which expanded to the Mahoning Valley last week, is to provide jobseekers with the skills employers are looking for, while also building the local talent pool in manufacturing, health care and IT.

“From JobsOhio’s perspective, it’s not different, just more unified,” said Kristi Clouse, the agency’s senior managing director for talent. “We have filled gaps where partners have identified them; places like marketing and outreach where they don’t have the funding mechanisms to bring in expertise from partners like [Columbus-based Falhgren Mortine]. 

“We’re able to provide that with our investment. It allows them to continue doing their work while boosting what they’re doing to connect with jobseekers,” she continued.

Clouse joined officials from the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, which serves as the local program’s operations director, at an information session Tuesday morning.

Employers who commit to the Ohio to Work program will get help in advertising what positions they have open and what a career at their company may look like.Participants are also asked provide feedback to local program leaders to better refine what job coaches at organizations like Flying High Inc. and United Returning Citizens are telling people seeking out new careers.

“We’re interested in talking to anyone who’s rethinking their career or who’s looking for new job opportunities,” said Jessica Borza, executive director of the MVMC. “What we expect from them is that they take advantage of the assessments and coaching that’s available to help them decide what the right path is. That could be connecting to a job or taking advantage of the reskilling opportunities in the area.”

For jobseekers, coaching and skills assessments will be available through United Returning Citizens, Flying High’s Professional Development Center, the OhioMeansJobs centers in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, and the National Center for Urban Solutions, an employment center based in Columbus. 

As part of Ohio to Work, the local agencies are getting “small investments” to help them build capacity and hire career coaches, who will work with both businesses and jobseekers.

After the initial meeting and assessment, coaches can direct employees to companies that would be a good for them or, if people need more training, to local education partners like technical schools, Eastern Gateway Community College, Youngstown State University or WorkAdvance.

The final stage of the program is getting employees hired at participating companies.

The program focuses on manufacturing, health care and IT, the sectors that are the state’s fastest-growing and face some of the biggest worker shortages.

“They’re also the fields with the most transferable skills from people who have been displaced,” said JobsOhio’s Clouse. “It resonates with each of the markets we’ve been in. It’s not outside the scope of where we’re deploying this.”

Locally, the fields are where the Regional Chamber is dedicating much of efforts in attraction, retention and expansion, said chief operating officer Sarah Boyarko.

“When we’re meeting with companies through our business expansion and retention program, or even in attraction, we’re hearing that the largest needs and the largest number of open positions are within health care and manufacturing,” she said. “We hear from them most frequently about a wide array of positions.”

Already, both the chamber and the MVMC have gotten some interest from businesses and, with the program officially launched, are encouraging jobseekers to reach out to partner organizations to begin coaching and assessments. 

Interested businesses can sign up for the program at OhioToWork.com/employers, while jobseekers can visit OhioToWork.com/mahoning-valley to get connected with partner organizations.

As a startup, what attracted GreenBoard IT vice president Wiley Runnestrand to the Ohio to Work program was that it brought several organizations together.

“This program is new, so there’s still a lot to learn about it, but it’s exciting that they’re bringing all the partners together,” he said after the information session. “As an employer, I don’t have to go talk to five or six organizations. It’s all tied together, both for employees and for me.”

What also helps is that the partner organizations are working to create a better picture of career pathways with employer feedback, which can give jobseekers a clearer idea of not just what they’ll be doing on their first day, but what they may be working on in five years.

“We can show them what their job is in the future and how they can get to the next phase in their careers,” Runnestrand said. “I don’t need someone with a four-year degree, but the certificate programs at our local tech schools can get someone ready to go for me pretty quickly.”

For Bull Moose Tube in Masury, plant manger Pete Kefalas, the opportunity to better communicate what kind of jobs are available in factories is invaluable, whether it attracts those who would be stepping into a plant for the first time or those who are looking to re-enter the field.

“There needs to be awareness in the community for jobseekers and there need to be avenues to get them working at different places,” he said. “As a manufacturer, it’s important for us to get people out of high school or get them from unemployment so we can give them technical training to make them productive in the workforce.”

Pictured at top: Jessica Borza, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, speaks at an information session about the expansion of the Ohio to Work program. On stage with her is Kristi Clouse, senior managing director for talent at JobsOhio.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.