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Fixing the need for a skilled workforce
By Kalea Hall
email@example.com First of a two-part series
They say manufacturing in the Mahoning Valley and in Northeast Ohio has a strong future.
But there’s an issue – a big issue.
Manufacturers here and elsewhere need a skilled workforce to grow and sustain their operations.
They say, however, a loss of interest and bad memories from the demise of steel are hurting and will continue to hurt a vital part of our local economy if a skilled workforce is not continually developed.
“We think a lot about it,” said Jessica Borza, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition. “We have been successful in attracting more people to welding, but there needs to be more effort put into machining.”
Within the next few years, an estimated 300 machining positions will open in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio and Lawrence and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania.
That’s why members of the OH-Penn Collaborative, comprised of MVMC members and members of the Manufacturing Industry Partnership of Lawrence and Mercer Counties, have joined efforts to recruit and build a skilled workforce.
“It’s definitely a collaborative effort,” Borza said. “I think everyone knows this is high priority.”
Local manufacturers medium and small realized years ago a growing need for workers in manufacturing amid a loss of interest in the industry. MVMC formed in 2011 to develop ways to meet the skilled workforce needs of companies in the area.
The group is led by manufacturers but has representatives from higher education institutions that work with the manufacturers. The MVMC and the PA IP formed the OH-Penn Collaborative later to combat the issues facing their members.
The most-pressing need is for machinists. Machining involves the use of machines, a laundry list of them, to make products for a range of purposes. It is used to make metal products for the most part but can also be used to make specialty products out of wood, plastic, ceramic and other materials.
In May, Team NEO, a regional, private-sector organization with the goal of marketing Northeast Ohio for development, released an economic quarterly report focusing on manufacturing. Projections in the report show manufacturing growing an additional 25 percent over the next decade; it is expected to be a $53.5 billion sector of the economy by 2025 while it is a more than $43 billion sector of the economy now.
In Northeast Ohio, 49,000 jobs will be added in production occupations over the next 10 years, the report said. A majority of these jobs will become available because of retirement, but the region has seen a growth in employment opportunities in several sectors of manufacturing.
In the Youngstown metropolitan area, manufacturing accounts for 15.5 percent of total employment, PNC economist Mekael Teshome said.
“Which is very high,” he said. “In the U.S., manufacturing is only about under 9 percent. We have a larger than average share of our workforce that is connected to the factory sector.”
Here our largest manufacturers are in automotive and metals production.
“We are still reliant on manufacturing where as nationally it is not as much as a job creator,” he said.
Teshome has a view that runs counter to the Team NEO report. He doesn’t foresee any new jobs being added to manufacturing, but he noted this is an aging population so there will be jobs open with retirements.
“We have an older population, and someone has to fill those spots,” he said.
The challenge is exposing potential machinists to machining and erasing misconceptions about manufacturing. People in the area remember the collapse of the steel industry here.
“That was a really tough time,” Borza said. “The industry has changed so much. I think manufacturers who survived the most recent economic downturn are the ones who learned to be the most diversified. They are smarter and a lot leaner.”
Schools in the area have been responsive to the need for a skilled workforce. They have all worked to improve what credentials are incorporated into their programs. The MVMC has worked with all of the local trade schools: the Trumbull Career and Technical Center, Columbiana County Career and Technical Center and the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, and Youngstown State University and Eastern Gateway Community College.
The MVMC, in a joint effort with several others, applied and received a grant for a feasibility study on a lab for students interested in manufacturing.
“We are making really good progress,” Borza said. “We have engaged MS Consultants to do the architecture. They have helped us define our collective needs.”
The lab, which will be located within walking distance from YSU and Eastern Gateway at a permanent site to be determined, will have machining, welding and engineering classes. Potential students will then have the opportunity to tour the facility and see what a career as a machinist, welder or engineer entails.
“In terms of having in workforce development [issues] we are no different than the rest of the country, especially in the Midwest and especially in cities like Youngstown where we are industrial,” said Guy Coviello, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber vice president of government affairs and media. “I think Ohio is ahead of the curve because we have a lot of effort made at the state level.”
Coviello also gives a lot of credit to the MVMC.
“It helps to show potential investors that we are addressing the issue,” he said.
“I think we have wide community support,” Borza noted. “Everyone has a role to play in this. People have really heard the message. The work just never ends.”
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