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Cleveland institutions dipping into local talent pool to fill workforce gaps

Andrew Webster of Swagelok

Andrew Webster of Swagelok


Andrew Webster of Swagelok

William Gary, executive vice president of Tri-C's Workforce and Economic Development Division

Tri-C's Advanced Technology Training Center

Welding training at Tri-C's Advanced Technology Training Center

Welding training at Tri-C's Advanced Technology Training Center

Preconstruction alt energy lab at Tri-C's Advanced Technology Training Center

ArcelorMittal STEEL furnace


TremCo Incorporated

ArcelorMittal - Steelworker or the Future program

Tri-C graduate Mike Vargo, hired by Pyrotek13

A non-glamour city like Cleveland will always have challenges and opportunities when it comes to importing talent. Building native talent is an essential aspect of economic development, maintain the players who have accepted the challenge of building Northeast Ohio from within.    
 
Several of Cleveland’s academic institutions and large-scale companies are attempting to address talent gaps in the workforce by dipping into a deep pool of know-how situated on the North Coast. Training and educating current residents for the new economy is critical if the region is going to move forward, say those who believe in the area's inner strength.    
 
"We're going to have to grow our own talent and create a pipeline for new industry sectors," says William Gary, executive vice president of Tri-C's Workforce and Economic Development Division (WEDD). "We've got to align our training and educational programming in advance of those sectors."
 
Andrew Webster of SwagelokRight here, right now
 
Andrew Webster had been working security for a Cleveland hospital system for 10 years when he lost his job. Despite Webster's military law enforcement background, new work in security was hard to come by, and he knew he needed a fresh set of skills to find employment in the local workforce.
 
Last summer, a friend hipped Webster to Right Skills Now, a fast-track training program spearheaded by Cuyahoga Community College, Swagelok Co. and the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET) to prepare students for quality -- and available -- manufacturing jobs. After eight weeks of learning and a paid internship, he is now earning a decent wage manning a hydromat that produces valves and fittings for pipes moving oil and other fluids.

Like every Swagelok associate, Webster has the opportunity to earn yearly pay increases and hone his skills for future promotion. Just as importantly for the married father of two from Painesville, he has found a steady job that will keep his talents in Cleveland.
 
The program "helped me learn a new career path I couldn't have done on my own," says Webster, 36. "I hope to be here until I retire."
 
MAGNET

These words are music to local companies like Swagelok mining for talent among the Northeast Ohio population. Swagelok, a Solon-headquartered developer of fluid systems solutions, hired 20 training program graduates in 2014, and is in the process of taking on another eight from its first 2015 class, notes Hannah Delis, workforce development manager.
 
Upskilling and development of high-skilled employees is a priority for the company, says Delis. It’s that much better that Cleveland offers a wealth of hard-working individuals needing a career boost.
 
"We’re seeing a diversity of students in the program, including young adults just out of high school, retirees, veterans and people moving to manufacturing from other careers," Delis says.
 
William GaryMatching training to work
 
Gary came to Tri-C after 14 years as vice president of workforce development for Northern Virginia Community College. There he developed creative ways for qualified individuals to meet workplace needs, including structuring a deal with Intelstat that offered the Washington D.C. telecommunications company free workforce training with the school.
 
This kind of nimble thinking is something Gary believes can transfer to Tri-C as the region attempts to patch the holes in its workforce. Upon arriving at the college in July, he was charged with crafting new stratagems to prepare the region's workers for the job market.
 
"What I've been doing is aligning our programs against industry sectors driving the economy, to make sure these programs are aligned with the demand out there," says Gary.
 
For example, he expects Tri-C to boost programming related to advanced manufacturing in deference to sector demands in 3D printing and mechatronics, which combines several engineering disciplines. The school also uses its partnerships with Swagelok and Cleveland steelmaker ArcelorMittal to keep apprised of industry practices and trends. With help from ArcelorMittal, Tri-C has developed customized training with a focus on future steelworkers.
 
"Our training matches up with their expected outcomes," says Gary. "The people getting trained can go directly into jobs."
 
A steel of a job
 
Companies like ArcelorMittal are teaming with Tri-C and other schools to skill up potential hires for positions they are finding hard to fill, Gary notes. The manufacturing sector, which still has the highest concentration of employment in the Cleveland metropolitan area according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, often cannot find local applicants with the required abilities needed for work.  
 
Gary, who has worked in manufacturing as well as healthcare and information technology, understands that the changing nature of the industry has likely led to a mismatch of skills.
 
Recognizing this problem, ArcelorMittal expanded its Steelworker for the Future program to Cleveland in 2012, partnering with Tri-C and Lakeland Community College. The program, which offers participants an associate's degree along with paid internships at the steel manufacturer, had 74 students enrolled at Tri-C last year training for employment as mechanical and electrical craftsmen. ArcelorMittal hired four graduates from the program last fall, putting them into entry-level technician positions that focus on maintaining company service equipment.
 
Listening to what Cleveland's companies need should be among the primary roles of institutions wanting to benefit the regional job market, Gary says. "We're preparing individuals for a world of work," he says. "If we don't listen then we'll be training them for jobs that are irrelevant."
 
A company growing its own
 
Tremco Incorporated, a provider of roofing services, commercial sealants and fire-proofing solutions for the commercial and residential construction markets, employs 440 workers in the Greater Cleveland area, some of them beneficiaries of the company's "grow our own" talent procurement philosophy.
 
TremCo IncorporatedTremco's roofing and building maintenance division, headquartered in Beachwood, created "Tremco University" to impart hands-on preparation to sales and service employees as well as to contractors who install its roofing systems, says Kent Anderson, the business's director of training and development.
 
"Offering internal growth opportunities will ensure our long term growth and success," Anderson says.
 
That's not to say Northeast Ohio's job climate doesn't offer its own unique challenges, notes the Tremco official. Unemployment in the construction industry nationally is at a seven-year low due to an aging workforce. Cleveland's shrinking population and dearth of training programs exacerbate the national trend, particularly at the hourly labor level.
 
Tremco is staying aggressive with internships, co-op programs and job fairs to target the next generation of employees for areas including construction, says Anderson. The company is always on the hunt for high-skilled chemists, engineers and research and development professionals, though the bulk of its hiring is in sales to support its nationwide presence.
 
Kent AndersonHigh-skilled jobs in particular benefit not just Cleveland but all of Northeast Ohio by attracting and retaining younger employees who may otherwise leave the area during their peak earning years, notes Anderson.
 
"More money in the economy through better jobs means that more is available for education," says Anderson. "A strong, skilled labor force can even help influence entrepreneurs to come to the Cleveland area, or to start businesses here." 
 
Motivating a workforce
 
Team NEO, the entity charged with marketing Northeast Ohio to the rest of the country and the world, is doing its part to fill the region's talent coffers. Last year, the nonprofit assisted in the recruitment of 19 new companies, representing more than 1,350 new jobs and $55 million in shiny new annual payroll.
 
Continued area-wide jobs growth means helping the business community upskill its labor force. Though Team NEO doesn't engage in this work directly, its partnership in the employment creation effort known as the JobsOhio Network has it spreading the word about the Ohio Incumbent Workforce Training Voucher Program, a state-sponsored venture that will make $29.4 million available for employers to enhance the skills of their workers in 2015.
 
The program reimburses companies for up to 50 percent of the cost of training workers in advanced manufacturing, automotive, energy and other labor-intensive industries. Training occurs at company facilities or other locations, and can include accredited classes, certification processes and equipment instruction.
 
A robust, motivated, well-educated, and highly trained workforce is critical for the retention and expansion of all businesses in Cleveland, says Gary of Tri-C. Area business leaders and their allies must not only be resourceful in creating programs to seal talent gaps, they also must divine the future job market in order to make those efforts viable.

Tri-C has 1,200 students in its youth program alone, exposing them to various STEM-related disciplines and preparing them for an age of automation where robots are doing manufacturing work.
 
Local companies searching for hard-to-fill welder, mechanic and electrician positions are turning to Cleveland institutions for help, while high-tech businesses headhunt for workers carrying both technical prowess and team leadership abilities. Gary also wants the school to upgrade its hospitality training programs in light of Cleveland's growing tourism sector.
 
The challenge for the region is for Cleveland entities to stay connected, so folks
like new Swagelok machine operator Webster can make a living wage while helping boost Northeast Ohio's financial health, says the workforce development head.
 
"This is a solution that can involve all of our citizens," says Gary. "We've got to address the people who are (out of work) now. If we don't get it right, we won't enjoy the growth and economic vitality we've been starting to experience."

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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