Better training, breaking down barriers would help solve worker shortages

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The owner of a small landscaping business contacted my office recently because he could not find enough young people willing to do the type of labor required. He wanted to know about community resources to locate potential employees.
I’ve heard the same concern from local manufacturers, Ohio farmers and construction employers. While the economy is growing, there is still a need for people to cut lawns, run high-tech factory robotics or install electrical wiring.
The reasons for this are numerous. During the Great Recession, Ohio lost 166,000 manufacturing jobs — a staggering 20 percent. This is in addition to the decades-long erosion of American manufacturing due to increased global competition.
Those losses hardly engender confidence in future job security. Moreover, the health care, financial services and technology sectors continue to expand and offer physically less demanding career options. While a number of jobs in those fields offer high salaries, many pay less than a living wage — with no greater prospects for long-range job security.
Policies and programs needed
We do have young people eager to work and willing to accept jobs. What we need are improved policies and programs to match our youth with the training they need and employers with capable, job-ready applicants. We also need to focus on barriers that stand in the way of successful employment.
Millennials who are mired in student debt are less interested in owning a car than in previous generations. Further, low income households often struggle to afford one. According to the census, more than 41,000 Cleveland households in 2012 had no vehicle available. Consequently, thousands of workers use other means to get around — by foot, by bike or public transit.
Without viable transportation to cover long commutes, however, some attractive job opportunities are unattainable for workers. That is why I strongly support federal initiatives that invest in mass transit and transportation infrastructure.
We must also consider expanding high school and post-secondary level vocational training and updating perceptions about career opportunities available in 21st century manufacturing. Since the recession, smart manufacturing technologies have been increasing American companies’ competitiveness in overseas markets.
Manufacturing still a key
Over the last five years, manufacturing has grown twice as fast as the economy overall and accounts for a majority of U.S. exports.
While it’s not expected to regain its ranking as the largest employer in Northeast Ohio, manufacturing remains a critical component of our region’s economic well-being. I have been a consistent advocate of strengthening workforce development programs and believe public-private partnerships can maximize opportunities for businesses. I also encourage employers and trade organizations to provide more internship and apprenticeship opportunities.
The Department of Labor recently announced $100 million in competitive apprenticeship grants to develop innovative, high-quality registered apprenticeship programs. These are proven to reduce turnover costs, generate highly-skilled employees and yield higher productivity, as well as a more diverse workforce, and would apply to more than 1,000 occupations.
The sooner we put smart initiatives to work, the better it will be for local businesses and communities.
U.S. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-11, is now serving in her third consecutive full term. She was elected in a special election in November 2008, re-elected in the general election that was held that same month and most recently in 2012. In 2012, she was unanimously elected by her colleagues to serve as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus in the 113th Congress.