John Kasich is preparing to take a star turn at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, later this month. Rob Nichols, the governor’s spokesman, explained recently that organizers of the international conference are “aware of Ohio’s work-force-development-reform efforts and [have] asked Gov. Kasich to discuss it in a session on advanced manufacturing.”
The current global economic climate — marked as it is by highly mobile talent and capital plus the need for flexibility in skills — makes it imperative for any state to be vigilant about maintaining a work force that can adapt swiftly to changing demands. Ohio, certainly not alone, long has recognized the challenge, hence the effort over many years to raise educational standards at all levels and beef up worker-training programs.
So now, with Kasich on the global stage, the pertinent question is: What does Ohio have to offer the world in terms of a dynamic experience in work force development? What has Ohio been able to achieve of late?
To increase the effectiveness of existing programs, among them the state’s one-stop job centers, the governor seeks to streamline a sprawling system of worker development, noting the dozens of programs located in 13 state agencies. Kasich has set up a Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, with the goal to coordinate program development and assessments, budgets and data collection among policymakers, employers and workers. As part of this coordinating effort, Kasich has established a 25-member Executive Workforce Board to represent geographic and business interests and advise the governor and the transformation office on the way forward.
Yet the centerpiece of Kasich’s worker development effort appears to be the $20 million Ohio Incumbent Workforce Training Voucher Program. The initiative, launched late last month after much delay (online applications will be available Monday), will reimburse employers in nine targeted industries a portion of the cost to upgrade the skills of workers, up to $500,000 a year.
Among the administration’s initiatives, count also OhioMeansJobs, a web-based resource for job applicants; OhioMeansVeteransJobs, which focuses on veterans; the Learn to Earn program, which allows those receiving jobless benefits to keep the benefits while training with an employer; and the Employment First program to open up job opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.
All of this points in the right direction, the smaller and larger initiatives. Yet, as the governor knows, it will take much more than websites to develop the resilient work force required to be competitive, or even employers sharing their work force needs. It hardly helps that public schools are struggling with reduced resources, and college students face high costs and heavy debt loads. As the governor heads to Davos, his efforts in work force development barely have gotten started.