Workforce Symposium Addresses Barriers to Employment

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership wants to ease the barriers that prevent job seekers from securing careers.

On Wednesday, agency representatives led a workforce symposium at Oak Hill Renaissance Place to hear from job seekers about their challenges and to connect them with organizations that can help and employers.

Transportation and child care are two of the biggest hurdles, said Marilyn Montes, chief operating officer for MYCAP.

She said the symposium allowed job seekers to learn about the opportunities available to them in the community, including free training.

“The goal is to follow this group and make sure that they connect with the resources in the community so they can better their lives for their families with better pay and benefits,” she said.

MYCAP and its partner agencies will maintain contact with those who attended the symposium to ensure they have access to training and opportunities and to work to remove barriers. That may mean providing financial assistance for someone who is in training.

“We want to help them reach their goal,” Montes said.

Various groups and organizations host job fairs throughout the community, but there’s little follow-up after the job fair is over to determine what happens to those who attend.

“Hopefully, by sharing information both ways, from the participants and the organizations that are here, we can improve a little bit at a time and change lives in the process,” Montes said.

Brilex Industries is one of the companies that attended the event.

“Brilex always has a need for workers,” said Ryan Engelhardt, vice president. 

The company attends job fairs and similar events trying to get its name out and to interview prospective employees, he said. Available positions include fitters, welders, general laborers, assemblers, machinists, shipping/receiving and maintenance.

Ryan Engelhardt, Brilex Industries vice president, and Grace Stigliano, a recruiter with the company, talk to a prospective employee at Wednesday’s event.

The company has been grappling with not only a skills gap but a shortage of applicants overall, Engelhardt said.

“For us, it’s people that want to be in manufacturing,” he said. “There may be job seekers out there, but they may be geared to wanting to go into health care or the service industry. Events like this just give us the opportunity to give the pitch for manufacturing.”

For that pitch, Engelhardt emphasizes what his career has done for him and his family. 

“Manufacturing is a very robust industry, and we’re 50 years removed from when it was the powerhouse of the Mahoning Valley,” he said. “But it still exists. It’s just in a lot of smaller to medium-sized shops.”

Ciera Johnson of Youngstown was one of the job seekers who attended the Wednesday event. She’s open to most any type of employment. She just wants something that will allow her to provide for her three children, ages 6, 12 and 18.

Ciera Johnson of Youngstown is one of the people who attended the workforce symposium presented Wednesday by the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership.

She recently worked for a manufacturing company but had to leave because she couldn’t make that work schedule fit with her children’s schedule. Sometimes she has to transport her children to and from school because of school transportation issues.

Before her fiance’s death about a year and a half ago, she was managing. His death, though, left it all on her.

Other people attending the symposium talked about felony convictions as obstacles to them getting hired.

A representative from United Returning Citizens, as well as the housing manager at MYCAP, said they can help the job seekers navigate the expungement process.

The African American Male Wellness Agency, which also helps people find careers, attended to connect with job seekers too.

“We are here representing all things wellness, all things fatherhood,” said John-Michael Oliver, executive director.

The agency has seven initiatives: health and wellness, mental health, mentoring, research, financial literacy, workforce and Uplift Her, which is geared toward women.

The agency operates under the National Center for Urban Solutions Workforce Department, which works with the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition. 

“We help with the recruiting and career coaching, so anyone – male or female – are able to come in to upskill and help them have a better career,” Oliver said.

Stephanie Gilchrist, Youngstown economic development director, spoke to symposium attendees about the importance of staying motivated.

“You’re looking at a girl who had a baby at 17,” she said.

She went on to speak before the U.S. Senate about minority business ownership, and she speaks often to the governor’s office.

She encouraged the job seekers to connect with the employers, organizations and agencies at the event.

“Your network is your net worth,” Gilchrist said, adding that people are “greater than your circumstances.”

The city was built on entrepreneurship, she said.

“John Young started Youngstown by doing the steel mills,” Gilchrist said. “No matter where you start, you can build up.”

Pictured at top: Marilyn Montes, left, chief operating officer of the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership, and Stephanie Gilchrist, Youngstown economic development director.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.