Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Getting Work and Workers Together: Harder Than It Sounds

In all the talk about economic development, I keep wondering about the prospects for the majority of the Mahoning Valley’s workers – those who don’t have college degrees and who don’t, at least on first glance, seem to stand to gain from the development of the local technology sector. In an effort to find out where they stand in the local economy, I’m talking this week with Bert Cene, director of the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association. They’re the pipeline for federal funds aimed at preparing workers to fill the jobs available in the local economy.

MCTA works with both businesses and individuals, trying to match the workforce needs of area companies with the skills of local workers. But there’s a mismatch between the two sides. In our interview, Cene describes a local jobs fair, where employers came looking to fill about 2000 jobs and more than 5000 people showed up looking for work – but the employers still couldn’t find enough people with the right skills to fill all 2000 slots. What’s wrong?

On the one hand, local businesses could do a better job of working with organizations like MCTA to identify their hiring needs. On the other hand, more area workers have to be prepared on a basic level with skills like just showing up on reliably. At the same time, many workers have been displaced from jobs that paid well, and the positions that are available today offer lower wages. Cene suggests that many workers today shy away from factory jobs, preferring the clean, safe, and relative quiet of retail and service industry work.

But the big picture, which I found somewhat surprising, is that, at least according to Cene, employers in our area are looking for good workers but can’t find them. There are jobs available, and, Cene says, that as new industries develop, organizations like MCTA can help provide appropriately-trained workers, as long as business can identify what they need.

At the same time, educational institutions have to provide the right kind of training opportunities. Cene says that he’d like to see YSU offer more flexible programs geared to fill the needs of area businesses. That may be one of the advantages of the proposed community college. We’ll talk about that in a few weeks, when former state Senator Harry Meshel joins me to discuss YSU’s future. Stay tuned.

And if you're interested in work in the Mahoning Valley, visit the Worker Portraits website -- a collection of stories about real jobs in our community.

1 comment:

Janko said...

This was a great interview.

I feel the mp3 of this should me mass emailed through the Chamber and Incubator emails lists to all of its clients and businesses.

Learned a lot about something I knew very little about previously.

Is there a location in downtown youngstown that people can get to via public transportation?

I've seen the one in Boardman Plaza, and it seems very...out there for many people.