County, region face challenges developing workforce local news starbeacon.com electricity worksheets for grade 1

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That’s relatively low, as 4 percent is often regarded as the rate of regular job turnover or the “churn” of the labor market. But it’s actually a symptom of a larger problem with work participation rates in Ashtabula County and elsewhere in the nation, said Craig Sernik, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Council of Governments Area 19 Workforce Development Board.

Of the about 80,000 working-age Ashtabula County residents, about 56 percent are working or actively seeking work, according to the 2015 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. That’s lower than the about 63 percent national rate, which peaked at about 67 percent at the start of last year.

“However, that is not the only reason. Close to zero growth in population of the county, the increase in the median age of the population that lives in the county, a population that lives longer, and a population that is able to retire and stop working while still physically able to work also all contribute to a shrinking labor market and worker participation rates,” Sernik said.

Some of the largest local employers recently learned county youth preparing to enter the workforce value quality of life as much as wages and advancement. Ashtabula County Youth LEADERship students, all area high school juniors, have been researching workforce development and retention efforts for Cristal Global and Lukjan Metal Products of Conneaut, and presented their findings May 1.

retention interviews — similar to exit interviews but conducted across an employee’s tenure, with questions designed to keep workers happy in their jobs. Beth Dougherty, Cristal’s HR business partner, said it was like a “light bulb kicked in.” That’s something she said she hopes to propose at Cristal in the future.

But they also noted local employers aren’t reaching those groups as effectively as they could be through the internet or social media — which about 90 percent of both employers and job seekers nationwide use to connect — instead sticking to traditional media largely ignored by younger groups, like print or radio.

Retaining employees is also a challenge for Cristal, Dougherty said. Though local employers are finding the county’s employment well sparse because of lack of skill training and ever-increasing drug use, Cristal also struggles to hire from outside the county because the county itself seems uninteresting, she said.

“We have some niche type of positions and we have some hard-to-fill positions. This county does not have people within that can fill those,” she said. “When we go outside of the area, we have a hard time with people remaining here unless they’re young and single because their families don’t enjoy the area.”

But the LEADERship students picked up on more local attractions than the Cristal HR had considered, Dougherty said: the state’s only Olympic training facility in Spire Institute; Pymatuning’s lake and state park; Geneva’s wine country; and Erie’s Presque Isle — all things that need to make it into the “welcome” packet, she said.

County Commissioner J.P. Ducro IV agreed. He called the Youth LEADERship presentations a “microcosm” of the critical issues surrounding local workforce growth, and said more county businesses should be asking how they can meet workers’ needs.

“I think reaching out and connecting with them early on from a business standpoint is a good investment,” he said. “(Businesses will) have to devote capital and resources and manpower to do that kind of outreach and training, but I think that’s going to be a good investment … if we can keep our own and stop the ‘brain drain.’”

Myers agreed recruiting from outside the county can be a challenge and stressed building around what Ashtabula County has to offer, such as a lower cost of living and amenities like Bridge Street, the Metroparks, quality school districts and affordable lake front property.

Patterson also referenced the brain drain back in 2016, when he first introduced a bill that aims to repay portions of student loan debt for science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates who continue to work in Ohio after finishing college.

The bill failed to gain traction that year — “the timing wasn’t right,” he said — but he reintroduced it in October as House Bill 396. It’s since been heard in the House Finance Committee and he said there’s newfound interest in expanding its scope.

Bachelor’s graduates would be eligible for up to $2,000 per year; $4,000 for graduate degree holders; and $8,000 for those who’ve earned their PhD, Patterson said. The new bill could include associate’s degree holders or those who studied at career technology centers.