Summit County manufacturers, educators tackle worker-shortage issue

Launched in March 2015 (with a slight name tweak since), ConxusNEO replaced the Summit County Workforce Solutions initiative and uses a data-driven approach when working with businesses, schools and organizations to match workforce training to the needs of employers.

Align, held Thursday, March 23, at the Hilton Akron in Fairlawn, brought out the support of some of the area’s heaviest hitters, including Summit County executive Ilene Shapiro, mayor Dan Horrigan, the Greater Akron Chamber, the GAR Foundation, MAGNET (the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network), Stark State College, Akron Public Schools and several manufacturers.

The half-day conference, which included several speakers and a breakout brainstorming session, was the first time ConxusNEO gathered together its primary stakeholders from across the county, said Rick Stockburger, ConxusNEO manufacturing engagement manager.

ConxusNEO has organized the county into several networks based on geography, and its stakeholders — manufacturers, educators and government/civic leaders — collaborate within those networks, he said. But the Align conference allowed about 160 people from across the county to come together so that manufacturers could talk about the kind of workers they need and educators could learn about how those workers need to be trained.

The makeup was just what organizers were hoping for — about a third manufacturers, a third educators and a third from the civic arena, Stockburger said. The purpose, and hence the conference’s name, was to get all the players aligned, linked and communicating.

MAGNET CEO Ethan Karp painted a picture for attendees about the manufacturing scene in Ohio, based on results from one of the group’s surveys. When taking ancillary services into account (suppliers, banks, etc.), about 45% of all jobs in Northeast Ohio are driven by manufacturing, he said. And finding skilled, experienced employees is still a top concern among manufacturing employers. Despite that, manufacturers are optimistic, and while employment in the sector is down, productivity is up, thanks in large part to technology, he said.

Ned Hill, professor of public administration and city and regional planning at the Ohio State University, was the keynote speaker and talked about the skills and competencies workers will need so that our technology-driven manufacturing sector can flourish: an understanding of both business and technology; the ability to identify and solve problems in advance; the ability to think deductively and experimentally; knowing that soft skills are as important as technical skills; communications skills; ability to work on a diverse team; and the ability to lead.

To harness the brain power of the room, organizers broke off attendees into a World Café session — where tables discuss common questions and then share insights with the larger group — to foster dialogue.

Some familiar themes emerged from the discussions: better marketing efforts about the promise of manufacturing jobs; hands-on vocational training earlier in students’ careers; and better communication among manufacturers and educators and consistency in training. There were some unique suggestions, too, such as standardized training programs for entry level jobs.

“For us at ConxusNEO, this is the heart and soul of our work,” president Sue Lacy said of the brainstorming sessions. “It’s helping connect, to build and align.”

Jenny Stupica, human resources manager for SSP Inc. and a ConxusNEO board member, said manufacturers need to look beyond finding experienced workers, necessarily, and instead find those workers who are interested in manufacturing and train them. That’s what SSP has done to great success, she said. The Twinsburg-based valve and fittings maker employs about 180 people, and based on the number of current open positions and general turnover, Stupica expects to have to make 15-20 hires this calendar year.

“We as a firm believe it’s not a skills shortage,” she said. “There’s plenty of skill out there. It’s a matter of showing people (what kind of jobs) are out there.”

SSP works with Akron and Twinsburg schools and other entities to give schoolkids and teachers tours and talk about how manufacturing jobs have changed.

Stupica was encouraged by the headway being made to address the talent shortage and the stakeholders working on the issue.

“Everyone that’s necessary in this alignment is at the table,” she said.

That included the manufacturers themselves. Companies need to not worry as much about competing for employees and tackle the problem itself, she said.

“Leave the egos at the door, and we need to address this as an industry,” she said.

Lacy echoed those thoughts when it comes to finding employees.

“(Manufacturers) need to move from being consumers to being investors,” she said.

And educators need to understand what manufacturers need in workers, she added.

Organizers didn’t want the discussion to end with the conference and provided several ways for educators and manufacturers alike to act. They encouraged manufacturers to get involved with programs at Stark State and Akron Public Schools and to offer those training entities feedback on the skills they look for in employees. A representative from the Gene Haas Foundation outlined grants for which educators may be eligible. And Stupica outlined the TalentNEO program, which uses the ACT WorkKeys job assessment system to assign scores to job openings. The program also provides testing to job seekers so they can determine their scores in certain skill levels and match them to the scores of the job openings.

Read original article here.

Walton, Sue. (2017, March 23).  Summit County manufacturers, educators tackle worker-shortage issue.  Crain’s Cleveland Business.  Retrieved from