With Strong 2018 in the Books, MVMC Looks Ahead

CANFIELD, Ohio – For the apprenticeship program piloted by the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, the third year was the charm as members brought on nearly 100 apprentices in 2018.

“The headliner is that we exceeded our apprenticeship goal, particularly with the three-county area being able to stand up five classes of apprenticeships,” said Jessica Borza, executive director of the coalition, at the association’s quarterly meeting Nov. 30. “We were able to organize three classes of machinists, one in industrial maintenance and one welder/fitter, which was brand new.”

In total, 99 apprentices worked with manufacturers as part of the Greater Oh-Penn Apprenticeship Network in 2018, bringing the total since the network launched in 2016 to 165. Most of this year’s apprentices were in the machining field, with 55 placed, followed by 35 in the tool and die sector and 33 in maintenance and repair. The initial goal for year three of the network was to place 75 apprentices, Borza said, and beating that goal by such a margin could prove a tipping point.

“Moving into the last two years, it’ll just be a habit for them to add new apprentices, which makes it a lot easier to sustain those numbers and sustain the program,” she said. “They’ll be doing these apprenticeships long after the grant ends.”

The Oh-Penn Apprenticeship Network was formed in 2015, supported by a five-year, $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The money supported the creation of financial incentives for manufactures to create apprentice positions, as well as the infrastructure to train and develop the associated workforce. Though the grant expires in 2020, the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition will continue facilitating apprenticeships, Borza said.

“The connections are made, the program’s developed, the [education] providers are in place for classroom instruction and the employers know what to do on the job,” she said. “A lot of that up-front work that was supported by the grant was to create the infrastructure.”

In the coming year, the group will be launching a new marketing campaign with the Ohio Manufacturing Association. The agreement gives the MVMC access to the statewide association’s market research, allowing “us to reach new audiences in a bigger way,” the MVMC director said, especially when it comes to increasing participation in programs.

The featured speaker at the quarterly meeting was Tom Hutter, project manager for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ new Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network, or Retain, demonstration project. Through the project, funded by a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Labor, the state agency will work with health-care providers – locally, Mercy Health – and employers to develop stay-at-work and return-to-work programs for workers who suffer injuries off the job.

“We know, from all the research we do, the longer somebody’s out, the less chance they get back to work,” Hutter said. “We’re trying to set up so we have the engagement of a health-care provider in the area – Mercy Health – to capture those individuals as soon as they get injured.”

The goal is to get employees, particularly those in manufacturing who suffer leg, back and shoulder injuries, into the program within 90 days. The Retain program is “a mirror network” to what the Bureau of Workers Compensation offers for on-the job injuries, he explained.

Initially, the demonstration program is open to businesses in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

The program is scheduled to begin in April and run for 18 months. Ohio was one of eight states awarded the Department of Labor grant. At the end of the 18 months, the states will report back to the federal agency, with the four most promising programs receiving a second round of funding.

For companies taking part in the demonstration program, Ohio Means Jobs will send out teams to help employers develop policies that keep employees working while they deal with injuries and inform employees of the services available to them. The Department of Job and Family Services is also exploring setting up a hotline for workers to call should they suffer a non-occupational injury.

“We know that health care is a maze. A lot of people don’t understand it. Even when it works out in the best way, we know there are still gaps,” said Nick Baron, director of occupational health at Mercy Health-Youngstown’s Boardman and Howland medical centers. “We’re hoping that we can provide the right resources at the right time to help employers and employees navigate that process.”

Among the gaps frequently experienced by Mercy doctors, he continued, is between employers needing an employee back at work, the employee feeling well enough to work and the doctor feeling the employee isn’t medically ready, Baron said.

“Depending on what provider is seeing them, they may not feel comfortable releasing them [back to work]. Oftentimes it’s the lack of communication caused by the provider wanting to be cautious and not cause re-injury,” Baron said. “This connection between provider, employer and employee creates an environment to close that gap.”

At the quarterly meeting, coalition members also learned that the Mahoning County Education Service Center will launch in January a video series aimed at educating high school students on career paths as part of a partnership with All Choices Matter. Steve Pelton, chairman of the Eastlake-based nonprofit, noted the videos cover a wide array of careers, represented by local businesses.

“It’s not just informing them of what jobs are out there, but what the jobs actually do, what they can expect to do in those roles and how they can get the skills and character needed to be a good employee in the workforce,” he said.

Among the jobs highlighted are welding, graphic design, civil engineering, environmental science and food service quality. Pelton and the Mahoning County Education Service Center are seeking businesses to participate in future videos, Pelton said.

“They want to know what it’ll take to get the job. They want to know, from you, what the job is and what you care about, whether that means showing up on time, if they can dress down, if it’s stressful,” he said. “They hear about things, but they don’t know what they need to bring forward to get that career.”

Four new businesses were welcomed to the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition: Spectrum Metal Finishing in Boardman, Warren Design & Build in Warren, Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership in Youngstown and Youngstown Area Goodwill Industries in Liberty Township.

Pictured: Jessica Borza, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, said the agency beat its goal by placing 99 apprentices in 2018 as part of the Greater Oh-Penn Apprenticeship Network.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.