Regional Workforce Plan will put emphasis on collaboration

A law signed by President Barack Obama in 2014 may bring a more regional approach to filling the labor needs of Northeast Ohio businesses.

But the effectiveness of this regional approach will depend on the willingness of the five local, federally funded workforce boards as well as area schools, colleges and training programs to work more closely together. It also will need more active participation by employers in the programs.

The five workforce boards in Northeast Ohio released a draft of their plan last Monday, Feb. 27.

The Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) updated the law that created and finances a system of state and local workforce programs. As it stands, Cuyahoga, Lake and Lorain counties each have their own Workforce Development Boards, while Summit and Medina counties, and Ashtabula, Geauga and Portage counties, have shared boards. Each board receives and spends federal worker training funds to help jobs seekers in their own counties, though they all operate under the state-level Ohio Means Jobs program.

The new law directs the states to recreate the system, in part to make it work better and more efficiently in metropolitan areas.

John Weber, deputy director for workforce development with the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, said it’s a matter of catching up with the realities of the labor market. Since people easily commute across the region, just because there is little demand for a particular skill in Portage County, he said, a job seeker needs to know employers in Lorain County may be looking for people with that skill.

“So one workforce board says a demand occupation is that and another one is saying it’s that,” he said. “This way, they will all be in agreement acting as a whole region. That’s better for the employers and better for the jobs seekers.”

The local boards will still operate independently, said Grace Kilbane, executive director of the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Workforce Development Board. But now it will be easier to spread best practices across the region, ensuring that job seekers have access to the best programs to develop the skills they’ll need for the jobs that are in demand — or will be in demand — by employers across the region.

That means that a quality training program in Lorain County should be available to job seekers in Summit or Lake counties. It also means recognizing that the majority of the jobs in the region are in Cuyahoga and Summit counties (see sidebar) and that getting qualified candidates to distant job sites should be part of the regional planning process.

“It has strategies at the regional level, things that we’re going to do together across the region,” Kilbane said. “And then we’ll have stuff for just Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.”

William Gary, executive vice president of Cuyahoga Community College for workforce and economic development, came to Northeast Ohio from Virginia, where workforce programs were more regionalized. He said he sees this collaboration as a positive approach.

“We need to get beyond the parochialism and realize economies of scale,” he said.

The plan also adopts a guideline mandate by Ohio Means Jobs to put greater emphasis on training people for the skills employers need rather than simply plugging people into existing jobs. More specifically, it favors on-the-job training over programs that assess a job seeker’s skills, teaching things like résumé writing and job interview skills, and sending people out on interviews.

It also identifies three key industries as regional economic drivers: health care, manufacturing and information technology.

This regional approach is being pioneered in Akron at the nonprofit ConexusNEO. Its mission is to bring businesses with jobs to fill together with county residents who have the skills or are willing to learn the skills needed to fill the in-demand jobs. It has linked with programs across the region, not just in Akron, to make that happen.

It has partnered with organizations such as MAGNET in Cleveland, which is an advocate for manufacturing and consults with manufacturers to help them grow, including through employee development and retention. ConexusNEO president Sue Lacy said her organization and MAGNET are jointly sharing the cost of a staff person to show Akron job seekers the kinds of manufacturing jobs — and training opportunities — available across the region.

ConexusNEO has begun a similar collaboration with the Regional Information Technology Engagement (RITE) board at Lorain County Community College to build a talent pipeline to jobs with information technology companies.

Lacy believes this new regional approach will help grow the regional economy and add jobs.

“We’re working with Progressive Insurance (in Cuyahoga County) and companies outside Summit County because they’re hiring Summit County residents,” she said. “It just makes good sense to be looking at this regionally because we are a regional economy and workforce should be, and will be increasingly, a critical component in a strong economic development strategy for the region.”

Read original article here.

Miller, Jay. (2017, March 5). Regional Workforce Plan Will Put Emphasis on Collaboration.  Crain’s Cleveland Business. Retrieved from