Efforts are underway to better connect companies that have jobs openings in the Greater Akron area with tens of thousands of local residents either seeking work or who want better opportunities.

There is a great mismatch of job seekers and available jobs and many opportunities to make things better, speakers said Thursday morning at a workforce conference attended by about 300 private and public sector people in Fairlawn. The conference, called Align, was organized by Akron-based ConxusNEO, the redesigned and rebranded Summit Workforce Solutions, which aims to help develop and find skilled employees for local businesses.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, the keynote speaker, said workforce improvement is Ohio’s top economic issue.

There are about 2,000 open entry-level jobs now in the Greater Akron area that can be a path to more promising work for residents, said Michelle Collins, ConxusNEO vice president.

And there are about 10,000 open jobs across all industry sectors in the area that can support a decent middle-class lifestyle, she said.

Meanwhile, speakers said there are about 75,000 people in the Akron area who are either underemployed or not working but who want a job.

Of the 75,000, some 62,000 are in low-paying jobs that are not upwardly mobile, they said. Some 36,000 of the 62,000 have four-year college degrees, and 11,000 have two-year degrees, with the remainder either with some post-high school education or certification.

“They all completed high school,” said Kirstin Toth, senior vice president of the GAR Foundation and a program speaker.

But this group of people either lacks awareness of or exposure to better opportunities, she said.

ConxusNEO said there are about 13,000 people, all with high school diplomas and half with four-year college degrees, who are unemployed but have the skills and background that employers are seeking.

A lot of talk and discussion in the four-hour-plus program centered around barriers that hinder people from better jobs. The conference opened with an overview of the new Elevate Greater Akron program.

Husted, in his keynote speech, said Ohio needs to improve attracting and retaining work-age people. DeWine recently named him director of the state's Office of Workforce Transformation.

Over the next 10 years, more people are projected to leave the state’s workforce than will enter it, Husted said.

As part of its workforce strategy, the DeWine administration is now looking to coordinate all 13 state agencies that are involved in workforce development but historically have never met with each other, Husted said.

One message people need to hear is that not everyone needs to go to college to have a successful, well-paying career, Husted said.

The DeWine administration is asking for $15 million in the proposed state budget to fund up to 10,000 so-called "micro degrees" to help already-employed people improve their skills, Husted said. Employers would pay for the degrees and then get reimbursed for the expense, he said.

By way of example, someone in a line assembly job making $16 an hour can enter a micro-degree program and finish it, while still working full time, in less than four weeks and get certification to be qualified for a $26-an-hour robotics maintenance technician job, he said.

“We are really focused on a cultural change,” Husted said. “You are the people who can create the cultural change.”

ConxusNEO President Sue Lacy said one goal after the conference is for attendees to leave with recommendations and opportunities to take action on the issues raised in the program.

 

Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.