Workforce and the Skills Gap in Licking County

This month’s column focuses on the much-discussed “skills gap” in the economy today. Both employers and prospective employees are confronting this issue. The Chamber is actively involved in collaborating on this topic, so I turned to several of our Chamber partners, to get expert opinions and responses to a series of questions. The “panelists” – Angela Carnahan of OhioMeansJobs│Licking County, Lauren Massie of C-TEC, Vicki Maple of COTC, and Nate Strum of GROW Licking County – provided wide-ranging insight and information. Their feedback was more than I can fit in this article, but here are some of the highlights and initiatives in our community’s efforts. 

When asked what the most persistent issues they are hearing from employers regarding the skills gap, all our experts identified “soft skills” as a constant response from employers. This group of skills was summarized by Vicki Maple, who identified them as “critical thinking and problem solving; interpersonal and teamwork skills; intrapersonal skills and attitude; a sense of work ethic and discipline; a proactive self-starter that takes initiative; and quality standards.” The transition to increased automation – particularly among manufacturers was also noted, as Lauren Massie observed, “We’ve worked with many industry partners to train their current workforce on new equipment and technology, for example in robotics and PLCs.”

It's clear that this is an issue on which service providers are focusing; in response to the question “What work is your organization doing with area employers, to address skills gaps with existing employees?”, there was enough information for an entire column! Nate Strum highlighted the collaboration: “GROW Licking County is partnering with the Licking County Education Service Center (ESC), Central Ohio Technical College, C-TEC of Licking County, OhioMeansJobs│Licking County, and the Licking County Chamber of Commerce (among others) to perform a skills gap assessment. This will help align skills development for growing industries in Licking County, as well as identify shortcomings in our current programs and opportunities to help strengthen our employment base.” Additionally, our colleagues pointed to training subsidies for employers, low cost training and certification programs for existing or prospective employees, skills assessments, counseling, grants, and financial assistance for those seeking to enhance their skill sets as well as customizable training.  Lauren Massie emphasizes that “now is the time.

As companies re-open, employers will likely shift skillsets and training needs and assistance is there (locally) to develop their workforce to meet those needs. There is a great program, called TechCred, that launched last fall to assist companies with training costs to upskill their employees. It offers up to $2,000 per employee. A new window just opened on June 1.” (more info at www.techcred.ohio.gov)

The group also spoke to efforts to integrate skill development – and expose students in K-12 – to the opportunities that skilled trades can represent. Each organization is working to present the many different options and opportunities skilled trades represent for young learners – and that STEM learning is not just “cool,” but provides a great foundation for technical skill development! Angela Carnahan noted this initiative: “Ohio Means Jobs Licking County has a Mobile Manufacturing Work Crew each summer which gives recent graduates an opportunity to learn and experience manufacturing environments hands-on, while earning a wage.”

Our community is clearly embracing the “skills gap” challenge head-on. Our area employers are working closely with educational institutions, economic developers, and others. This community partnership, reaching across sectors and age ranges, will help make a difference – in our community, and for our community.