Help Wanted

A "Help Wanted" sign is posted on a business door in downtown Mansfield.

SHELBY -- Richland County boasts numerous job opportunities, yet employers are still struggling to find and retain workers.

During a recent fall workforce summit held by the Richland Area Chamber, three speakers shared tips for attracting and keeping quality workers.

“These things can be done. Maybe they’re not easy, but they can be done,” said Steve Cummings, vice president of Mansfield Engineered Components, after the event. “There are a lot of us trying new things to attract, engage and retain workers ... Hearing these examples of places that have had success is really important.”

Connecting with the next generation of workers

Kerry Koontz, Careers Counselor at Van Wert High School, told attendees about Van Wert’s Career Education Opportunity (CEO) program. It connects high school seniors with internships in a career field of their interest. 

Like Richland County, Van Wert County faces workforce issues such as an above average retirement age population and labor shortage.The program serves all three high schools in the county, as well as the local career center. In order to qualify, students must be in good standing and complete an application process that mimics real life with resumes and tiered interviews.

Students who are accepted have a semester-long placement with a local business during a fixed class period and receive high school credit. Industries available include healthcare, insurance, non-profit entities, public safety, construction and even tattoo artistry.

“The kids get excited. This is the best part of their day,” Koontz said.

In four years, the program has expanded from 17 students and 13 business partners to 67 students and 45 business partners. Some of those students worked summer jobs at their CEO placements after the internship ended.

Koontz believes the program gives local employers a chance to showcase available jobs while giving students who didn’t choose to attend a career technical school a chance to get some hands-on experience.

Look beyond the traditional workforce

When looking for potential hires, the best place to look may not be the unemployed, but the underemployed.

Merriam-Webster defines underemployed as “the condition in which people in a labor force are employed at less than full-time or regular jobs or at jobs inadequate with respect to their training or economic needs.”

Janice Urbanik, senior director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, suggested that employers ask how they can meet the needs of women, ex-offenders and those who are employed as part-time workers or working below their skill set.

One thing prospective employers should keep in mind is the “Cliff Effect,” which occurs when an increase in wages doesn’t make up for the loss of public assistance benefits.

Meghan Cummings, executive director of the Women’s Fund of Greater Cincinnati, challenged employers to consider how to rethink company policies to overcome the Cliff Effect. 

One common issue is that single mothers who are trained and willing to work may lose a job opportunity if they have to stay home with a sick child before the end of their probationary period.

Another problem is that while many companies offer reimbursement programs for training or transportation, low-income workers often don’t have the cash available to pay the upfront costs.

Cummings cited the Cincinnati Zoo, which found that many of its seasonal, low-wage employees didn’t have $70 on hand at any one time to purchase a bus pass. Zoo administrators decided to purchase the monthly bus passes ahead of time and give them to employees at the start of their tenure, which Cummings said moved one employee to tears.

Car trouble can be another roadblock for low-income workers. Offering low-interest emergency loans, with payments being deducted from an employee’s paycheck, can allow workers to get their cars fixed and get back to work without going into debt on a high-interest loan.

Cummings stated that understanding the socio-economic issues faced by low-income workers and working with them can make a big difference in reducing employee turnover. She concluded by inviting employers to get more ideas from the free online toolkit at toolkit.cincinnatiwomensfund.org.

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Three guest speakers offered advice for finding and keeping talented workers at the Fall Workforce Summit, held by the Richland Area Chamber at North Central State's Kehoe Center.