Op-Ed: Collaboration Key to Plugging the Workforce Gap in Mahoning Valley

By Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, and Jessica Borza, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Various public and private entities across the Mahoning Valley are collaborating to execute a state-organized initiative to fill the workforce talent gap. And it’s working.

It’s working because there’s structure, communication, strong local leadership and funding. Many area organizations are benefitting from the investment, as are jobseekers, many of whom were displaced during the pandemic.

The initiative is called “Ohio To Work,” and credit for it starts at JobsOhio, the state’s private nonprofit economic development corporation. Through the collective leadership and vision of Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and JobsOhio President and CEO J.P. Nauseef, the workforce development issue was identified, a plan was developed to address it and financial resources were allocated.

The concept was piloted in Cleveland in 2020 and expanded to four other regions in 2021, including the Mahoning Valley. It runs through the remainder of this year.

Just what is Ohio To Work, exactly?

Ohio To Work is one answer to the multi-level question seemingly on everyone’s mind: “What is being done to address the worker shortage?” Ohio To Work helps displaced and at-risk Ohio workers find new employment or pursue reskilling opportunities for in-demand jobs by pairing workers with training providers, career support and a network of employers.  

It leverages our regional asset, JobsOhio network partner TeamNEO, and community assets like the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition (MVMC), local OhioMeansJobs offices, Flying High, National Center for Urban Solutions, United Returning Citizens, local career and technical schools, Youngstown State University, Eastern Gateway Community College and others; and it turns up the volume on what they’re already doing.

At the same time, it brings these organizations together to share best practices, tell each other’s success stories and jointly scale their outreach efforts, such as with job fairs and marketing initiatives. Businesses that are hiring are also brought in and asked to commit to hiring the jobseekers that are identified through Ohio To Work.

I’m not looking for a job. Why should I care about Ohio To Work?

Not all of us are actively looking for work, but we all depend on the goods and services produced and offered at manufacturing plants and healthcare facilities, as well as technology integrators. Those are the industries prioritized with Ohio To Work. And when Ohio goes back to work, we all stand to gain. 

Here is how local partners have implemented Ohio To Work: MVMC serves as the local operations manager coordinating the overall initiative. They engage local workforce development partners like Flying High, National Center for Urban Solutions, OhioMeansJobs in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties and United Returning Citizens to identify, recruit and train candidates to be job-ready for available local jobs. 

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber adds its extensive reach of local businesses looking to fill open positions to the mix, which is the No. 1 issue its members face right now. Workforce shortages are curtailing growth opportunities for many Mahoning Valley employers—it’s not just a matter of needing employees to meet the basic needs of an operation. 

Delayed shipments, missed deliveries and capacity constraints can cause manufacturers’ customers to cancel orders and look for other suppliers. Hospitals are asking employees to do more and risk burning them out as they try and maintain the highest standards of care despite being shorthanded. IT is a growth industry, as well, and cannot afford to fall behind as more and more technology is added to our daily lives and those of many area businesses. 

By working together and adding funding to increase marketing, recruiting, coaching and training, Ohio To Work has proven to be both an injection into our Valley’s economic engine—with most of the dollars staying local—and a path into rewarding, long-term career opportunities for our unemployed, under-employed and recently graduated local workforce.

We applaud the effort of JobsOhio not only for funding Ohio To Work, but for including the Mahoning Valley in its reach. A pilot program initiated in Cleveland in 2020 was expanded into Columbus, Cincinnati-Dayton, Toledo and here a year later. Ohio To Work is well on track to achieve its desired targets for attracting much-needed talent and employing the state’s displaced workers.

We also applaud the collaborative spirit of the local entities receiving JobsOhio funding. It’s an honor to be entrusted as the steward of these funds—funds that are meant to address such high-profile and meaningful issues for our fellow Ohioans both on the employer and employee side of the equation. 

To learn more about the local Ohio To Work initiative, visit OhioToWork.com/mahoning-valley.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.