Workforce help is on the way for Northeast Ohio manufacturers

Ask any manufacturing executive about their most pressing business challenge, and you’re likely to hear the same thing: finding skilled workers. In Northeast Ohio, according to our 2018 Ohio MEP Manufacturing Survey, over 60 percent of manufacturing businesses said the lack of skilled workers will hamper their company’s growth and success. 
As a nonprofit devoted to growing manufacturing in Northeast Ohio, we at The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, are actively responding to this challenge. With retirements and growth driving over 20,000 manufacturing job openings in Northeast Ohio in the next few years, and the region’s manufacturing jobs comprising or driving half of all our region’s employment, filling this talent gap isn’t just a manufacturer issue. It’s our community’s issue. 
The need for manufacturing workers is also a huge opportunity to bridge some of the inequity we see in Cleveland, driving more wealth and middle-class jobs for disadvantaged populations. To ensure that manufacturing’s rising tide lifts all boats, MAGNET is working on some exciting initiatives.
First, with the support of the Cleveland Foundation, the state of Ohio and many other local philanthropic foundations and corporations, MAGNET has launched the Early College, Early Career program. ECEC adapts the best aspects of European-style manufacturing apprenticeships to the Ohio educational system, offering students paid internships, college credit, industry-recognized certifications and the potential for a high-paying manufacturing job immediately after high school graduation. 
As we speak, 75 pre-apprentices from seven high schools are working in paid internships at 10 companies across three counties. The majority of these students are from low-income backgrounds, attending high schools in inner-city Cleveland and other underserved neighborhoods. ECEC offers manufacturing careers and college classes to students starting in 11th grade. We are thrilled that local companies are investing in their future workforce by employing and training these students to fill high-paying positions immediately upon high school graduation.
While training youth is important, we also know that there are 2,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in Northeast Ohio right now. That’s why we have partnered with Cuyahoga Community College and other nonprofits to rapidly expand and promote the use of manufacturing bootcamps to quickly skill-up adults and help them transition into manufacturing careers. 
With just two months of training through Tri-C’s Right Skills Now program, students can learn how to operate a CNC machine, matriculating directly into internships paying $15 an hour and up. As we expand the availability of boot camps to individual Cleveland neighborhoods and engage underserved populations, we are focused on recruiting students and employers to ensure these programs work for everyone.
MAGNET’s efforts are just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. We need a coordinated effort throughout Cuyahoga County to bring together all the stakeholders — companies, educational institutions, nonprofits, government and more — to address this challenge together.
Workforce Connect is a partnership across the manufacturing sector that will lead to large-scale, lasting solutions. By convening manufacturers and empowering them to own their talent pipelines, we can finally move the needle for our fellow residents, neighborhoods, and Northeast Ohio.
Ethan Karp is president and CEO at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network