$3M Grant Affirms Success of Oh-Penn Collaborative

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A partnership among organizations covering 14 counties to provide apprenticeships attests to the value of the partnership formed by the Mahoning and Shenango valleys to collaborate on workforce issues, a model that is spawning imitators, local proponents say.

The U.S. Department of Labor awarded an American Apprenticeship Grant of just shy of $3 million — $2,998,625 – for the Greater Oh-Penn Manufacturing Apprenticeship Network, which will help manufacturers in the region find highly skilled, credentialed employees and adopt the apprenticeship model.

The grant is focused specifically on machining occupations, said Jessica Borza, sector partnership coordinator for the Oh-Penn Manufacturing Collaborative and executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, one of the two primary partnership entities under the grant.

“It will allow us to continue our career pathways work and now expand into the creation of more apprenticeships in the region,” Borza said. “It’s a logical extension of our work thus far.”

Occupations will include machinists, CNC operators, tool and die makers and related skills such as industrial maintenance and welding, she reported.

The 14-county region has 2,833 manufacturing openings annually, and more than 6,686 adults over age 55 that will retire from the industry within the next 10 years, according to the coalition. With only 586 program completions regionally in manufacturing related fields through the fourth quarter of 2014, more skilled workers will be needed to bridge the gap.

“Apprenticeships are the next step to developing a talented pipeline for industry in the area,” said Brian Benyo, president of Brilex Industries and the Mahoning Valley Manufacturer Coalition. “Creating apprenticeships across the area will allow us to develop a pipeline of skilled machinists, especially advanced machinists, and other related occupations.”

Labor Department studies show “87% of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, with an average starting wage above $50,000. Studies from around the globe suggest that for every dollar spent on apprenticeship, employers get an average of $1.47 back in increased productivity, reduced waste and greater front-line innovation.”

The Oh-Penn Interstate Region formed in 2009 – the first interstate region in the United States – to address workforce and economic development issues in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio and Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania.

The grant will serve 14 contiguous counties in all: the five original Oh-Penn region counties plus Portage, Geauga and Ashtabula counties in Ohio and Erie, Crawford, Venango, Clarion, Warren and Forest counties in Pennsylvania.

“It’s just a natural progression,” affirmed Eric Karmecy, Oh-Penn Pathways to Competitiveness project manager for the West Central Job Partnership in New Castle, Pa., the lead applicant on the grant and the other primary partner.

“We’re working regionally with providers on both sides of the border, and a lot of these networks have expanded not just across state lines within the five counties but beyond,” he continued.

“Obviously it has brought success here and sustainability and forward momentum, and even grown bigger geographically across state lines and across workforce board lines,” Borza said.

Borza and Karmecy point out that manufacturers in neighboring counties have formed organizations modeled on the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, aiming to replicate its successes. These include the Erie Regional Manufacturer Partnership and the Portage County Manufacturers Coalition. Five industry-led sector partnerships are among the other key partners in the grant.

“More than anything, what the receipt of this grant tells us is that this interstate collaborative is a model that is working and that the Department of Labor recognizes as being a successful model,” Karmecy remarked.

The grant will enable training for 300 registered apprenticeships over a five-year period, he said. The resources the grant provides will fund planning, development of curriculum and expansion of recruitment models successfully executed under a previous Workforce Innovation Fund grant, he said.

Funds also will be available to provide more technical assistance to employers to help them through the process, Karmecy added.

West Central Job Partnership will serve as fiscal agent for the grant and MVMC is acting as the required private-sector entity.

The official start date for the grant is Oct. 1, Borza said. In the meantime, the network’s partners will convene to begin to develop plans and implementation strategies and get “everybody on the same page,” she added.

The funds were part of $175 million awarded this week by the American Apprenticeship Grant program. The local grant was announced Thursday by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.