New leader is refueling county workforce engine

Being an invited guest at the White House is pretty exciting.

Being invited to the White House on President Barack Obama’s birthday is even more exciting.

Better yet? It’s your birthday, too.

Sue Lacy found herself in that enviable position on Aug. 4, when – as the new president of Summit Workforce Solutions – she represented Akron at a Washington, D.C., event that unveiled the next round of TechHire communities.

“We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to [Obama], and I leaned over and said to the gentleman next to me, ‘It’s also my birthday.’ I had to say it to somebody.”

Lacy is doing a lot of talking these days. Since quietly assuming leadership at the nonprofit Summit Workforce Solutions in spring, she has conferred with business executives, met with educators and community leaders, and shared her message with just about anyone and everyone who will listen.

That message goes something like this: There are lots of great jobs right here in Summit County for people with the right skills.

To be more specific, Lacy’s early pitches have centered on employment opportunities in manufacturing. Before joining Summit Workforce Solutions, she was a partner and co-founder of Round River Consulting and was under contract with the Fund for Our Economic Future to facilitate Summit County executive Russ Pry’s Talent Steering Committee in its refining of the county’s workforce development ecosystem.

“What we saw was a need that was not being filled,” said Chris Thompson, director of regional engagement for the Fund for Our Economic Future. “The need was the ability to help the community – which includes everyone from job seekers and employers to those who serve both groups, such as community colleges, high schools and public workforce programs – to better understand the market for talent … and to figure out how we can better match up supply and demand.”

According to Thompson, two immediate recommendations emerged from the steering committee. One was that Summit Workforce Solutions should be the vehicle for the county’s talent planning activities. The second was that Lacy should be the driver.

“The first area we focused on was manufacturing,” he said.

Aligning local education and training programs with the skills needed by Northeast Ohio employers has long been a target of Summit Workforce Solutions, according to chairman Chuck Wiedie, but the organization struggled to hit that mark. Funding was a big part of the problem, said Wiedie, who also is the economic development director for the city of Hudson.

Summit Workforce Solutions owns the Ohio Means Jobs building on East Tallmadge Road in Akron. The bulk of Summit Workforce’s funding is derived from leases to other occupants, including Ohio Means Jobs Summit County and Summit County Department of Job and Family Services.

“Being a landlord and being responsible for upkeep of the building, a lot of times we were just basically trying to cover the operating costs of the building and staff with those revenues,” Wiedie said.

With Lacy came the know-how and funding connections to organize and bankroll more ambitious community-based workforce programs. Pry credited Lacy with spearheading the TechHire designation, for example, which makes Akron eligible for a grant to provide IT training to area job-seekers. Lacy said she expects to request between $2 million and $6 million once the final application is complete. Only two communities in Ohio earned a spot in the federal program.

Grants from the Fund for Our Economic Future, Joyce Foundation and Akron Community Foundation, just to name a few, are helping with the local rollout of TalentNEO, a skills-based hiring pilot launched in Cuyahoga and Summit counties. Through TalentNEO, job seekers can take specialized assessments that quantify their workplace skills at designated test sites across the county. They can then see how well their skills scores match up to automatic scores based on the skill sets defined in job postings and, in some cases, access training and remediation programs to “upskill.”

“All of this is available to job seekers free of charge for the next two years,” Lacy said.

Summit Workforce Solutions also hosted two summertime manufacturing site visits for Akron Public Schools teachers and counselors so educators could see first-hand what a 21st-century manufacturing site looks like and hear about high-demand opportunities.

In addition, its new manufacturing network – currently composed of about six local employers – is working with Akron Public Schools superintendent David James in organizing site visits for students and parents.

“We have seen a lot more activity in just the last four months,” Pry said. “It’s been a very exciting time.”

Jenny Stupica shares Pry’s excitement. Human resource generalist at SSP, a Twinsburg-based manufacturer of instrumentation fittings, valves and tubing, Stupica said SSP didn’t have a relationship with Summit Workforce Solutions before Lacy’s appointment.

The company has since signed on to the manufacturing network and is one of the first companies to adopt the skills-based hiring initiative.

As a TalentNEO employer partner, SSP agrees to consider applicants who meet the skill scores assigned to its job postings, even if the applicant has no experience in manufacturing or lacks the certification or degree associated with the job. Doing so, she said, provides a pool of candidates who have the capacity to do the job with the appropriate training.

“There is not a lot of experienced skill out there in the manufacturing industry, but there are a lot of people who could learn the jobs,” said Stupica, who also has joined the Summit Workforce board. “[Skills-based hiring] opens the door for a whole bunch of applicants we might not have been able to reach.”

Moving forward, Lacy plans to expand the manufacturing network and is already forming a TechHire network to drill down on the employment needs in IT. Health care will likely be the next frontier as Summit Workforce Solutions solidifies its position as the talent entity in Summit County.

“Sue has truly got us on track to do the things that, I think as a board member going back, I had always thought that we should do,” Wiedie said, “but we were never quite able to do.”

Read original article here.

Stringer, Judy. (2015, October 26).  New Summit Workforce boss brings expertise, connections to refuel organization.  Crain’s Cleveland Business. Retrieved from