Man of action Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

Robert E. Comben Jr. is known as a business leader who gets projects accomplished. Comben, president and CEO of Vocational Guidance Services, has expanded programs, services, partnerships and the physical reach of the 116-year-old nonprofit since he was named to its top spot in 1997.

VGS provides vocational training, work experience and job placement services for Northeast Ohio residents challenged by disabilities and/or economic disadvantages. Among VGS’ more notable services is the manufacture of women’s dress pants and skirts for the U.S. Armed Services. Under Comben’s leadership, VGS is one of the largest and most successful private, not-for-profit training agencies in Ohio, serving clients in 16 Ohio counties.

“VGS serves in excess of 5,000 consumers every year with barriers to employment,” Comben says. “We will competitively place into the community more than 1,000 people (each year) with significant disabilities or other barriers to employment.

And on any given day, we are providing almost 1,000 employment slots in our social enterprises.”

Much of this has happened on Comben’s watch.

He helped expand the nonprofit’s services into Columbus, where VGS clients serve on cleaning crews that manage 15 buildings at The Ohio State University. Comben forged innovative relationships with organizations such as Dress for Success Cleveland, which two years ago became a partner of VGS and is housed in VGS’ East 55th Street headquarters.

And most recently, Comben spearheaded construction of a 36,000-square-foot training center to better serve the thousands of people VGS provides services for each year.

A 2002 graduate of Leadership Cleveland, Comben also has been instrumental in expanding VGS’ programs — including 60 new programs launched between 2004 and 2005, and another 32 programs launched during the first 10 months of 2006.

One example is VGS’ Retail Sales Training Program — an eight-week course funded in 2005 by Key Foundation that trains people with disabilities and economic disadvantages for careers in retail sales by teaching them customer service, floor sales, loss prevention and safety, inventory, merchandising and computer literacy.

Students practice their skills in a paid, three-week practical course, and the program provides trained candidates for Northeast Ohio retail employers that have difficulty attracting and retaining retail employees.

HOW TO REACH: Vocational Guidance Services, (216) 881-6014