Ohio to Work Program Leaves Lasting Impact

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Ohio to Work program, a state initiative that was rolled out to replenish the workforce during the pandemic, stands to have a lasting impact in the Mahoning Valley, specialists said Wednesday.

The 18-month program ended in December, said Julie Michael Smith, program director for the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition. However, the program’s foundational structure and resources will transition to a new Regional Workforce Coalition designed to improve workers’ readiness and training.

“It’s building on the success of Ohio to Work,” she said. 

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and Youngstown State University would initially provide organizational leadership roles to help expand the new coalition.

Smith said there are approximately 20 members in the new coalition, and these partners have been meeting once a month. 

“We’ve submitted an application for a technical assistance grant to the Appalachian Regional Commission to really help build a stronger infrastructure with our workforce partners,” she said.

MVMC hosted a breakfast Wednesday morning at Stambaugh Auditorium to announce the impact of the Ohio to Work program. MVMC’s membership consists of representatives from private sector industry, education and development organizations. It was established 12 years ago to address major concerns related to developing a skilled workforce.

Ohio to Work was established in November 2021 during the aftershocks of the pandemic. The program was administered through JobsOhio, the private economic development arm of the state.

“Our fundamentals at the time was to get Ohioans back to work for our employers,” said Kristi Clouse, senior managing director, talent, at JobsOhio.  

The initiative rolled out resources such as a database to easily connect with employers, marketing and outreach support, job coaching and additional training efforts to enhance existing programs in select communities across the state.

Ohio to Work was first piloted in Cuyahoga County, and then extended to the Mahoning Valley, the Columbus area, the Cincinnati and Dayton region and Toledo, Clouse said.

The program more than met its goals across Ohio and across the Mahoning Valley, according to data.

Statewide, Ohio to Work served 204,358 people, exceeding its goal by 340%. Of that number, 17,295 enrolled in some type of workforce training, beating the state goal by 345%. And 18,005 received job offers, surpassing the state target by 129%.

In the Mahoning Valley, the program well exceeded the goals of local workforce groups.

According to data provided by MVMC, 34,518 local job seekers were served through the program, well above the projected goal of 2,000. Also, 1,617 individuals were enrolled in training, surpassing the region’s target of 500 by 223%. 

The program helped place 1,758 people with jobs, easily outdistancing the region’s goal of 1,000 by nearly 76%.

Clouse emphasized that the objective of the Ohio to Work program was not just to connect employees with employers, but to lay a framework for local coalitions to take the lead once the program ended.

A critical element to all of this was engaging with existing local workforce development partners that included industry employers, development organizations, higher education and other institutions across the region.

“We wanted to co-design it by bringing all of you to the table,” she said. 

The new Workforce Coalition plans to continue working with groups such as the National Center for Urban Solutions, which administers the United Returning Citizens program locally, plus other effective organizations devoted to job training and placement.

“Ohio to Work’s Mahoning Valley partners have built the momentum for even a larger effort that is bigger and more transformative than what we could ever imagine,” said Melissa Maiorano, director of workforce development at the Regional Chamber.

Regional Chamber President and CEO Guy Coviello said via a video presentation that the Ohio to Work program helped bring together for the first time dozens of workforce development organizations and dozens of educational institutions to collectively address workforce issues.

“The program might be over, but the work that this group is doing will continue through a regional workforce coalition that could not have happened without this investment and what the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition is doing,” he said.

Pictured at top: Jessica Borza, executive director at MVMC; Kristi Clouse, senior managing director, talent for JobsOhio; Julie Michael Smith, program director at MVMC; Melissa Maiorano, director of workforce development for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.