Creating Growth & Opportunity for Northeast Ohioans

With a workforce of two million strong, Northeast Ohio’s diverse talent pool is one of the region’s greatest assets. Home to more than 25 accredited colleges and universities, the region provides access to skilled talent in a number of diverse fields that support our regional economy.  As a skilled workforce is a necessary component to any healthy and growing economy, a number of regional initiatives have been started to ensure Northeast Ohio is able to align the needs of the business community with the right set of talent. In doing this, these initiatives aim to create opportunities for Northeast Ohio residents.

Growth & Opportunity

Helping to lead the charge in this area is the Fund for Our Economic Future – a non-profit organization that pools the philanthropic resources of its members in order to strengthen and sustain Northeast Ohio’s economy and increase access to opportunity for all people. Key to the Fund’s work is its Growth & Opportunity strategy. Growth & Opportunity looks at how job creation and economic growth must also be tied to opportunity for all – not just those at the top of the income ladder. As such, Growth & Opportunity focuses on three essential areas: job creation, job preparation and job access. In order for true economic growth to occur, these three factors must all be coordinated and addressed. To this end, a number of notable programs exist throughout Northeast Ohio that focus on various aspects of the Growth & Opportunity strategy.

Regional Workforce Initiatives

WorkAdvance is a perfect example. The WorkAdvance program is a national initiative launched by the New York City Mayor’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO); Towards Employment leads Northeast Ohio’s WorkAdvance project.  The program is designed to assist unemployed and low-wage working adults by finding good quality jobs in targeted sectors. In doing this, WorkAdvance seeks to meet the needs of the business community while creating opportunities for those that may have been overlooked otherwise. As the Fund for Our Economic Future highlighted in this video, more than 400 Northeast Ohio employers have hired WorkAdvance participants; of the more than 350 participants placed in jobs, 40 percent have advanced, earning average wage increases of 25 percent.

David Cleckner is a shining example of the WorkAdvance program in action. After his losing his job, David became a participant in WorkAdvance in 2013. WorkAdvance helped David join a welding program, providing him with some financial assistance along the way. Thanks to WorkAdvance, David has been able to transfer the welding skills he acquired into a profitable career that provides opportunity for advancement. David’s story is just one example of how programs like WorkAdvance are having a positive impact in Northeast Ohio.

In Summit County, a new initiative called Conexus is also working to address workforce-related issues. Officially launched on March 15, 2016, Conexus aims to connect job seekers with companies looking to hire needed talent. According to their website, “Conexus is catalyzing growth and opportunity in Summit County by working hard to understand the talent needs of area companies and to cultivate a demand-driven, data-informed system that meets those needs.” Conexus is focused on three primary areas that include:

  • Giving companies greater access to talent
  • Providing residents with clear pathways to prosperity
  • Aligning job preparation with demand

One of Conexus’ most important elements will be its website, which will serve as a matchmaking portal for companies and job seekers. In addition, “Conexus’ ultimate goal will be to steer more students and adults into education and training programs that match up the demand for real skills in the area economy”- particularly in engineering and manufacturing. As demand for talent grows in these fields, the need for skilled workers continues to mount, which make programs like Conexus all the more important.

A similar effort has taken root in Youngstown called the JobsNow Workforce Initiative. Created to help close the gap between the demand for skilled labor and the supply of workforce-ready employees in the Valley, the JobsNow Workforce Initiative aims to establish a one-stop service to promote available jobs, provide workforce data to local educators and assess candidates for job fit and readiness. The program is a joint effort being led by the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber in partnership with OhioMeansJobs and WKBN in Youngstown. In the first year, the program aims to attract 3,500 applicants.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, as Northeast Ohio looks to remain economically competitive, workforce programs like those highlighted above will continue to play an integral role in the region’s overall success.  Across all industry segments, Northeast Ohio expects to add nearly 123,000 jobs by 2025, representing a six percent increase in total employment. Areas like healthcare and manufacturing production top the list in terms of occupations with the greatest demand in the coming decade and thus represent fields with tremendous opportunity for local residents. Overall, nearly 640,000 job openings are expected by 2025, taking into account retirements and turnover. In order to fill these openings, the region will need a talented, skilled workforce.

Just as importantly, the region must ensure it is connecting all members of our region with these opportunities.  Unless we are creating economic growth and opportunity, our region will not reap the full benefits of its efforts.