Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017
Group plans for jobs
Commissioners review local economic data
By William Kincaid
CELINA - While Mercer County commissioners mulled economic data to be used to craft future workforce programs, a local development official said planners need to look beyond the numbers as they set a future course.
County community development director Jared Ebbing argued that "black-and-white" data should serve as a guide, not a definitive source for preparing for future jobs.
Matthew Kinkley is director of the Workforce Development Board representing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Area 8 - Auglaize, Hardin, Mercer and Van Wert counties. He works with an 18-member board selected by county commissioners, community-based organizations and other entities.
"Ohio and the federal government have required something called a local plan," Kinkley told commissioners. "And the local plan is really looking at a lot of different pieces of information, and the board's responsibility is to, from all that data, begin to put together a workforce development vision plan, if you will, for the four counties."
The federal WIOA is focused on building workforces, he said.
"So what are the strategies that we need to put in place that would help us meet employer needs in the future?" Kinkley asked, noting his board will target training and pathways from entry-level jobs to intermediate and advanced positions
Kinkley said the target date to complete the plan is May 5.
The data came from numerous sources and time periods.
Ebbing agreed that some of the data serve as a good guide but may not entirely represent Mercer County's situation.
For instance, Kinkley looked at industry employment trends from the third quarter of 2011 to the third quarter of 2014, when Area 8's overall employment rose by 4.8 percent, with a net gain of 2,640 jobs.
Growth was led by manufacturing. Jobs increased by 2,068 to 18,826, a 12.3 percent jump. Large growth was also reported in health care and social assistance with jobs increasing by 619 to 7,362, a 9.2 percent jump.
"This is the data that's available through LMI - Labor Market Information - through the state of Ohio as it relates to trends ... for growth and change in growth during that period," Kinkley said.
Other areas of growth included,
• agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting jobs increased by 172 to 902 or 23.6 percent.
• transportation and warehousing jobs increased by 118 to 1,679 or 7.6 percent.
• administrative and support and waste management and remediation services jobs increased by 167 to 1,798 or 10.2 percent.
The report also showed that the number of real estate and rental and leasing jobs decreased by 176 to 315, a 35.8 percent drop. Construction jobs dropped 14.2 percent or 425 jobs to 2,564, a statistic that Ebbing challenged, at least locally.
"Granted it's third quarter 2014, but for our contractors, it's just been a construction boom at least here the last couple years," Ebbing said.
Ebbing called for more recent data related specifically to Mercer County.
Kinkley agreed the data lag a bit, noting the information should be used "as a data point but not necessarily as gospel."
"You talk to any contractor around here, they are so far behind because they can't find workers," Ebbing said. "For around here ... the need for skilled trades - plumbing, electricians, etc. - you talk to any contractor, they'll hire anybody tomorrow if they have any kind of background or skill."
Construction is growing locally even though it may show a negative for the region as a whole, Ebbing said. He feared that trends showing a decrease in the industry could dissuade young people from entering the field "at the worst possible time."
"These contractors just cannot find help," Ebbing said.
Later in the meeting, Ebbing noted a similar situation happened in the 1990s and early 2000s, when trending indicated manufacturing was on the decline.
"Guidance counselors, parents, everybody told their kids, 'Hey, you don't want to go into anything related to that' ... and now we have a monumental skills gap," Ebbing said.
Young people pursued unrelated degrees.
"So then when high-skilled, advanced manufacturing continued to grow in the area, nobody was even going into it," Ebbing said.
Ebbing argued that data can serve as a guide, but direct interaction with businesses and schools is more important.
"I spend more time in the schools than I do businesses, and when I am at the schools, I usually bring business with me because we've got to have that conversation," Ebbing said. "If all they believe is numbers on certain things decreasing and they teach their kids that, it's no wonder that we're going to have kids that are going to be ... not engaged, therefore not going into the right direction."
Kinkley's report also included the top 10 careers locally based on the 336 job postings in January on a local website that links employers and prospective employees in Mercer, Auglaize and Darke counties.
According to that information, provided by Ebbing, the top job postings were manufacturing, 76; healthcare services, 57; transportation and logistics, 31; sales and marketing, 30; nursing, 30; construction technologies, 27; business and administrative services, 24; skilled trades/maintenance 22; engineering and science technologies, 21; and agriculture and food processing, 18.