Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories derived from Rising Rust Belt: A Regional Revitalization Economic Summit, which was held Oct. 7 and presented by the Shenango Valley, Youngstown-Warren and Lawrence County chambers of commerce.
When it comes to attracting, training and retaining a skilled workforce, state boundaries are meaningless, said Eric Karmecy, operations and special projects division chief for West Central Job Partnership, which serves Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania.
“We all have the same issues as far as developing the workforce,” said Carol Kilko, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have taken steps to work together by supporting industry and regional workforce endeavors. Examples include the Tri-State Shale Coalition, which is trying to make the region a petrochemical hub, and working with community colleges to develop core competencies needed by local industries, Kilko said.
“I think it’s just the beginning of things that need to be done on an interstate or on a regional basis,” she said.
Jessica Borza, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturer’s Coalition, said traditional apprenticeship programs are not seen as accessible by small businesses, so efforts are being made to work with industries and training schools to develop programs that meet specific needs.
State money is available to create pre-apprenticeship programs to connect high school students with employers, she said.
Once people have jobs, many are interested in advancement, and employers want their employees to move up the corporate ladder, Borza said. The coalition is looking to help employees learn the skills necessary to advance, she said.
Employees who have gone as far as they can within a business and want to look elsewhere, or want to switch careers, can get help in finding what they need to do in order to reach their goals, Borza said.
The Oh-Penn Interstate Region, a federally recognized workforce initiative consisting of Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties in Ohio and Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania, is looking at an acceleration strategy for apprenticeship programs based on competency instead of number of hours, Borza said. This would give quick learners the ability to move on, she said.
Gerri Jenkins, executive director of the Mahoning Valley College Access program, said employers don’t seem interested in the Ohio Readiness Seal, which is affixed to high school diplomas and school transcripts and indicate that a student has the personal strength, work ethic and professional experience businesses need. She asked what can be done to add value to the seal.
Schools have reached out to manufacturers to explain what the seal is, and it is part of the pre-apprenticeship program, Borza said.
“I think there’s more that could be done with it,” she said.