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Manufacturers Coalition Sets Priorities for Second Year
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Nearly all of the members of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition have job openings now, and "could continue to expand at a faster rate if they had the right person for the job," the coalition's executive director says.
The coalition, formally organized a year ago, is preparing to mark its first year of existence this month, which is also Ohio Manufacturing Month. The group was formed to address the “critical workforce skills shortage” in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, a gap driven in part by manufacturing growth in the region.
“While all of this wonderful growth [in manufacturing] is fantastic, it also presents a challenge of having enough workers with the skills and abilities needed to put the product out the door,” said Jessica Borza, the coalition’s executive director. “So we’re really focused on working with the schools and changing perceptions about manufacturing opportunities, and recruiting additional young people and transitioning workers into manufacturing.”
Earlier this year, the coalition reported that its founding members saw 6.9% growth from 2009 to 2011 and projected 33% growth in job openings over the next two- to three years. Manufacturing accounts for more than 10% of the total jobs in the eastern Ohio/western Pennsylvania region.
Signs of manufacturing’s resurgence in the Mahoning Valley and surrounding area are evident. V&M Star is completing work on its new $650 million mill in Youngstown, expected to employ more than 300 full-time workers, and other companies serving the oil and natural gas industry such as Exterran are establishing operations locally. General Motors recently announced that its plant in Lordstown would manufacture the next generation of its Chevrolet Cruze, a decision that likely guarantees that plant will continue operating through the rest of the decade, union leaders say.
Within the last couple of weeks, BOC Water Hydraulics in Salem unveiled its $3 million expansion and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute was launched downtown. “Additive manufacturing is going to change the face of manufacturing as we know it,” Borza said. “What an asset to the region, and how exciting to have that right in our backyard.”
As the coalition’s members celebrate its one-year anniversary -- a meeting is set for 9 a.m. Oct. 17 -- they will highlight accomplishments over the past year, “which has included a lot of planning, looking at good practices, what works, what needs to be done,” Borza said.
“We’ve established two main priorities,” she continued. “One is outreach and marketing -- how do we get the word out about these good jobs.” The other is developing career pathways in conjunction with training providers and educational institutions. “We’re happy to be a partner in the recent $6 million Department of Labor grant. That’s going to give resources we need to provide more hands-on training, work experience [and] internships for some of the students within the training programs,” she said.
Kelly Weikart, adult director at the Columbiana County Career Center, credits the manufacturers group for bringing attention to the opportunities in the manufacturing field. Weikart said the school has 40 students in the first-semester welding program under way now and 18 in the second-semester group that will graduate in December.
The second semester always has fewer students because after completing Level 1 welders go out and get a job, Weikart said. While it is good that they are getting jobs, “They are only getting entry-level certification,” she said. Often, after working jobs at lower pay, welders come back to complete their training so that they are able to perform higher-level work and earn higher wages.
While demand is strong for welding classes, “Machine trades seems to be the area where we’re hurting for workers,” Weikart added. Only eight people are enrolled in the program now.
One reason enrollment in the machine trades program is lower is the “math element,” the measuring and calculating, she observed. People “love the hands-on part and love to work with the machine. What leads up to that makes it hard for people.”
The next step for the coalition is to visit schools and attend community events to discuss career pathways for manufacturing, Borza said. “We’re going to continue to work with the career centers to refine their curriculum to make sure that it’s responsive to the needs of our employers,” she said. “We’re going to create internship opportunities that students can rotate through our members and understand what facilities may be the best fit for them, and start to make sure that we get the skilled workers that these guys need.”
Copyright 2012 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.