Reworking the system Featured

9:38am EDT July 22, 2002

If you think you're having problems filling your job openings now, brace yourself.

While unemployment rates have hit the basement, Ohio this month begins working under the Workforce Investment Act to ensure we're not buried by the job glut in years to come.

Mike Summers, chair of the Governor's Workforce Policy Board, says business owners are facing a new era of scarcity.

"The old era was a scarcity of jobs," he says. "This era is 180 degrees from that, so we are clearly on new turf here. All of the existing public infrastructure is geared toward the old model."

Consider the following: Between 1996 and 2006, annual employment openings will increase by more than 46 percent in the business services sector, according to a ranking earlier this year by the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services.

If you're in the transportation services sector, you'll face a similar scenario at nearly 44 percent, and openings will jump more than 30 percent in social services, engineering and management services, auto repair services and parking, and security and commodity brokers, according to the bureau.

The bureau, in fact, was affected by one of Gov. Bob Taft's first moves to consolidate state work force development programs. It merged with the Department of Human Services, forming the Department of Job and Family Services.

Other efforts start now. As of July 1, the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998 officially replaced the Job Training Partnership Act, which means Ohio has five years to develop a new streamlined work force investment system that is locally administered and driven by the private sector.

Work on the issue began last year when Taft appointed his Workforce Policy Board to oversee the act's implementation in Ohio.

"As business owners, we have an interest as taxpayers to make sure our tax money is spent toward legitimate issues," says Summers, who is the third generation of his family to own and run Summers Rubber Co. of Cleveland, a 60-employee, $10 million operation. "But the bigger issue is we need help. We cannot meet these challenges without a public entity to provide support and infrastructure."

The Workforce Policy Board, a panel of 57 leaders representing business, labor, education, government, social services and other entities, basically has three goals, Summers explains.

"We will actually increase the number of Ohio workers -- that's a quantity issue. Second, we will increase the quality of the worker -- the skills and performance," Summers says. "Third, we will create an efficient matching system to allow employees and employers to find each other."

The board's plan to meet these goals was approved in June by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Meanwhile, Summers says, the board is working on three short-term objectives:

  • Supporting OhioWorks.com, a free, state-sponsored Web site that helps local employers and job seekers find each other. The site allows job seekers to create and post online resumes and employers to create online job orders. Local job market information also is available.

  • Getting all of the existing training programs in the state in alignment to eliminate duplications and identify gaps in training. "All state departments are producing an inventory with an analysis as to the scope of their programs, source of funding and comment about effectiveness today," Summers says. Those reports are due this summer so the board can begin to determine what changes must be made. One of the main focuses, Summers predicts, will be to work on technology training for those already in the work force.

  • Supporting the governor's new Commission on Student Success, which -- by the end of the year -- plans to recommend academic expectations and assessments; propose actions to guarantee that students, teachers, parents and the public understand what schoolchildren are expected to know and be able to do; examine what already is working in Ohio and elsewhere; and make sure these parts fit together for an effective education system.

    "Roughly 30 percent of the Ohio population is students; therefore, they represent our future work force," Summers says.

    The board will push to advance education while making sure efforts represent the needs of employers.

    "Specifically, we want to maintain the accountability and measurability piece," Summers says. "That gets to the heart of proficiency test issues. We agree there needs to be proficiency outcomes; we can modify the measurement ... but let's not walk away from where we've gone so far."

Local boards throughout the state are forming to help meet the goals on their level.

"Our goal is to have every employee reach their career potential, whatever that may be," Summers says, "and have all Ohio employers find employees to help them meet their objectives as well." How to reach: Ohio Workforce Connection, www.ohioworkforce.org; www.ohioworks.com; Governor's Workforce Policy Board, (614) 728-8107

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN.