OH-Penn Advisory Council Holds First Meeting

WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. – The advisory council of the Greater OH-Penn Manufacturing Apprenticeship Network, which has $3 million to reimburse employers for apprenticeship programs, met for the first time Wednesday to discuss how to disburse its American Apprenticeship Initiative grant over the next five years.

The grant would allow employers, whether with a program or looking to start one, to be reimbursed for at least part of the wages they pay their trainees.

Representatives from the Erie Regional Manufacturer Partnership, the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, West Central Jobs Partnership, Vallourec Star, Butech Bliss, Hodge Foundry and Erie Press Systems agreed that the emphasis should be on creating new pipelines that train workers on the job.

The program serves 14 counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania – Ashtabula, Columbiana, Geauga, Mahoning, Portage and Trumbull counties in Ohio and Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango and Warren counties in Pennsylvania – and has 137 members.

For companies with startup programs, the council tentatively agreed to award the full amount – $6,000 per apprentice the first year – while existing programs will be given half, $3,000.

“With an existing program, we could just throw people into our program and say, ‘I’d love to get $6,000,’ but that’s not what this grant was intended to do,” said Matt Joing, manager of operations for Butech Bliss, Salem, Ohio. “Our goal isn’t just to compound existing apprentices. We don’t want a company who sucks up 10 apprentices every year and wind up with 20% of the grant.”

George Currie, president of the Erie Regional Partnership and vice president of Erie Press Systems, reasoned that funding for existing and startup apprenticeships should differ because “people who come in with a program locked and loaded won’t have the same costs or difficulties as new entries.”

The maximum reimbursement per apprentice drops each year, from $6,000 the first year to $2,000 in year five. The staggered plan was chosen in an effort to bring in more manufacturers early on and immediately begin addressing the shortage of workers, said Jessica Borza, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition.

Funds for each apprentice could be distributed in two parts: half six months from an apprentice’s first day and the remaining half one year after he begins. Gregg Dogan from the West Central Job Partnership, the organization the grant was officially awarded, noted that payments should be kept to minimum to simplify the process for both companies and the larger organizations.

Among the other topics discussed were finding alternative funding sources for companies looking to start or expand their apprenticeship programs, how to have area colleges and vocational schools adjust their curricula to meet employer needs, and how to ensure manufacturers fully understand the program.

The advisory council will hold its second meeting within the next four to six weeks with some topics discussed again. Recommendations the council makes will be presented to the Department of Labor, which has the final say on whether they are implemented.

“Their input will inform the policies that come out of this. Ultimately, the Department of Labor has to approve these things but they respect the fact that this is a demand-driven initiative,” Borza said.

Eric Karmecy, project manager for the grant, added, “It’s easier if we define things by ourselves first, tell [the Department of Labor] how our employers have defined the rules and ask if they’re OK with it than it is to go to them and have them do it for us.”

Borza also laid out the Labor Department’s 14 goals for the program, including the number of employers involved, new programs started, apprentices registered and apprentice retention rate. The ultimate goal of the apprenticeship network, she added, is to train 300 new apprentices within five years.

Greater OH-Penn expects to officially begin the network and accepting apprentices within about 60 days, Borza said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.