Brown, Ryan Join Displaced Auto Workers and Business Leaders to Discuss New Workforce Development Plan Aimed at Supporting Tech Belt

Brown, Ryan, and Kent State-Trumbull Leaders to Discuss New Federal Funds for Workforce Training at Northeast Ohio Advanced Manufacturing Institute

WARREN, OH – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) joined displaced auto workers and business leaders on Kent State University’s Trumbull Campus today to discuss new workforce development legislation that provides training for high-tech jobs in Northeast Ohio. Brown, Ryan, and Kent State-Trumbull Dean Wanda Thomas also outlined how more than $238,000 in new federal funds for the Northeast Ohio Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Kent State Trumbull will meet regional workforce needs by providing workers with specialized training in advanced manufacturing.

“We can revitalize Northeast Ohio’s manufacturing base with new high tech industries, but we need to make sure our workforce is prepared,” Brown said. “By building on regional partnerships between businesses, workforce leaders, and colleges, we can create and retain jobs in Ohio. This legislation will support the development of the Tech Belt by creating a pipeline of workers to fill the jobs of the 21st century.”

“Both Senator Brown and I are committed to making sure that northeast Ohio is ready to take on the challenges of a global economy and that starts with making sure we have a highly skilled workforce ready to take on the jobs of the future,” Ryan said.  “Legislation like SECTORS will help us transform our region and bring about the sort of synergy that the Tech Belt Initiative is striving to achieve.”
Brown and Ryan discussed the “Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success” (SECTORS) Act of 2009. This bipartisan legislation, which Brown introduced with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), would support the development of specialized workforce training programs at colleges to meet regional workforce needs of emerging industries or “sectors.”

The SECTORS Act addresses the disparity between high unemployment rates and a shortage of skilled workers for many emerging industries. Despite Ohio’s 9.2 percent unemployment rate, there is still demand in today’s labor market for skilled workers. This is particularly true for “middle-skill” jobs that require more than a high school degree but less than a four-year college degree. These jobs make up nearly half of America’s labor market and provide good compensation for workers.

To address this disparity, the SECTORS Act provides grants for sector partnerships among institutions of higher education, industry, organized labor, and workforce boards. These partnerships would create customized solutions for specific industries at the regional level. A sector approach can focus on the dual goals of promoting the long-term competitiveness of industries and advancing employment opportunities for workers.

Brown and Ryan were joined today by Wanda Thomas, Dean of Kent State Trumbull and Lisa Goetsch, Director of Workforce Development and Ohio Skills Bank Coordinator. Brown, Ryan, and Thomas outlined how the college is utilizing a $238,754 federal grant from the Department of Labor (DOL). The funds allowed for the launch of the Northeast Ohio Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Kent State-Trumbull this past January. This institute is providing specialized training to meet the needs of small and mid-sized manufacturers. The SECTORS Act would support the creation of similar “sector” partnerships throughout northeast Ohio.

Julie Michael Smith, Chief Development Officer at the Youngstown Business Incubator discussed the need for specialized training programs to meet regional workforce needs. Prior to the economic downturn, there were more than 5,000 unfilled information technology (IT) jobs and 3,500 unfilled machinist jobs in northeast Ohio.

Ohio’s economic development has been stunted by workforce development issues. According to a November 2007 report released by Gov. Ted Strickland’s office, four out of 10 employers statewide reported having a difficult time finding qualified applicants.

Between 2000 and 2007, Ohio experienced a 24.3 percent drop in manufacturing employment, shedding nearly 230,000 jobs. Overall employment dropped by nearly 3.6 percent in the same time period. Compared with other states in the region, Ohio is one of only three that did not fully recover jobs lost after the 2001 recession. Ohio also had the second highest manufacturing job losses behind Michigan.

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