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Public Workforce Initiatives Bridging the Middle Skills Gap

We are dedicated to developing and advancing the workforce to meet the current and future workforce needs of the communities we serve.

Lisa Patt-McDaniel, CEO and President, Workforce Development Board for Central Ohio

In 2014, then-president Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which aimed to increase funding and coordination for workforce development programs in the United States. One of the key areas targeted by the bill was continuing education and upskilling for adult workers. Programs and initiatives that offer these sorts of programs deal in middle skills.

Somewhere between degree-granted skill and entry-level capability lie the middle skills. These are skills gained not by following a traditional educational path, but by pursuing a more technically-focused, vocational career. One- and two-year certification programs are commonplace in the American economy, but the workforce is always in need of qualified professionals with skills in technology, vocation, and the trades.

Analyzing BLS data on occupational employment statistics by state, the National Skills Coalition identified a powerful tilt in the area of skilling for Ohioans (“Ohio’s Forgotten Middle” 2017). A remarkable 55 percent of jobs in Ohio sat at the middle-skills level, but only 47 percent of those workers have training up to that level.

So, what exactly does this mean for Ohioans looking for skilled work? First, it means that 8 percent of middle skills-requiring positions in the state of Ohio are going unfilled. Upskilling is a major priority for governmental bodies at the state level when tasked with this issue.

In economic confirmation of the bill mentioned above, Ohio’s workforce organizations prepared with a four-year regional plan for South Central Ohio (“Workforce Opportunity and Innovation Act,” Dec. 2017). In addition to offering up a number of fortified workforce solutions to persistent skills gapping problems, the plan outlines the funds needed to address the gap. To this end, it covers the 2017-2021 period and accounts for additional resources and the organizations that were awarded them. Part of this regional plan involves collaboration between local and state agencies and a network of company and non-profit partners.

Additionally, the Workforce Development Board for Central Ohio (WDBCO) operates job centers across the state that offer training, networking resources, and reskilling opportunities. Working through the Ohio Means Jobs Center of Columbus Franklin County (OMJCFC) and other agencies, WDBCO creates ever-updating workforce solutions for job seekers. Also, WDBCO job centers offer employers a place to find skilled, motivated employees.

In October of 2018, through its partnership with workforce innovation laboratory Midwest Urban Strategies, the board was awarded $1.3 million in grant funding by the U.S. Department of Labor. There’s little doubt that these funds will be put to excellent use in the coming years, especially as the demand for middle skills continues to expand.

Read on to learn more about how Ohio Means Jobs and WDBCO are helping to bridge the middle skills gap in their home state and beyond. In addition, it covers the who, what, and why of the skilling resource initiatives that combine to serve the job centers of Ohio.

Featured Interviewee:
Lisa Patt-McDaniel, CEO and President of the Workforce Development Board for Central Ohio

Lisa Patt-McDaniel

Lisa Patt-McDaniel joined the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio as the first president and CEO in November of 2016. Ms. Patt-McDaniel is a certified economic development professional (EDP) through the National Development Council. She is an officer on the boards of the Ohio Workforce Association, Midwest Urban Strategies, the Columbus Next Generation Corporation, and Heritage Ohio. She is also on the Board of the US Conference of Mayors Workforce Development Council.

Ms. Patt-McDaniel is a lecturer at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs where she has taught classes in public policy and strategic management. She holds a BS in public administration from Miami University and an MS in public administration from Ohio State University. Prior to her time as CEO of WDBCO, Patt-McDaniel was an executive-on-loan to the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus & Franklin County. Additionally, she worked for over 20 years at the state’s Department of Development.

The Ohio Means Jobs Center of Columbus Franklin County

When talking about public workforce initiatives, the role of the federal government is very important. Funding leads to resources, which lead to a greater ability to address employment challenges, eventually resulting in an increase in both upskilling and reskilling across the board. A good portion of the capital invested in initiatives and organizations like these can come from federal government grants.

In Central Ohio, the Workforce Development Board built Ohio Means Jobs as a non-profit brand to unify various regions’ goal of elevating adult worker skills. As mentioned above, a significant challenge is posed by the 8 percent gap between the total number of positions in the state economy and the number of workers qualified to do them.

This is, of course, the kind of issue that the WDBCO’s Ohio Means Jobs initiative was designed to address.

Advancing an ethic that seeks to pair workers with jobs that will inspire and motivate them is at the core of the WDBCO’s mission. “Ohio Means Jobs is the brand used by the State of Ohio to brand the Job Centers across the state,” says Patt-McDaniel. “Each workforce area has at least one comprehensive job center. The Ohio Means Jobs Center of Columbus-Franklin County (OMJ-CFC) is the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio’s job center.”

Utilizing the diverse strengths of the American Job Center Network (AJCN), multiple agencies offer employment counseling and consultation services, free of charge. “The Job Center serves as a neutral third party,” says Patt-McDaniel, “Providing information on the labor market, jobs and wages, and opportunities for education and training. We work with thousands of people annually, serving Franklin and surrounding counties.” The career and employment professionals operating in the OMJ-CFC bring their diverse occupational experience to the table, ready and willing to help job seekers find a job that’s right for them.

“[It] is dedicated to developing and advancing the workforce to meet the current and future workforce needs of the communities we serve,” Patt-McDaniel says. The Workforce Development Board has long been partnered with the AJCN, which like other partner organizations mentioned can help job seekers with things like writing a resume or following up on an interview.

More than this, though, the AJCN In the Ohio Means Jobs context, the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration coordinates an interconnected web of workforce development agencies.

Ohio Means Jobs Programs & Benefits

Further demonstrating the benefits of pooling government resources, the OMJ Columbus-Franklin County job center is overseen by ResCare, a national workforce support organization that helps pair workers with resources. Organizations like the Columbus Urban League, Goodwill Columbus, and Jewish Family Services offer career services for adult workers of all ages, at any stage in their career.

In the use of resources, emphasis is placed on positions where middle skills are commonly needed. And neutrality is maintained by the Job Center because the organization’s focus remains squarely on providing resources to those who need them. Job services are provided through collaborative funding from the WIOA Act, the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, Franklin County, and the City of Columbus. Programs and services are available to all Franklin county residents and businesses, free of charge.

In 2011, before her time with the WDBCO, McDaniel joined the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing (OCCH) as director of community development. Her responsibilities included developing long-standing relationships with community figures and leaders—a skill that’s critical to the dynamic nature of workforce development. She spent time working in a wide variety of both rural and urban environments that helped her hone skills in resource leverage, troubleshooting development, and matters of vacant housing and land.

Part of her job as president and CEO of the Workforce Development Board for Central Ohio requires that she coordinate and manage a varied list of resources. In this capacity as president and CEO of WDBCO, Patt-McDaniel’s authority over the OMJ-CFC means that she is is dedicated to advocating for ongoing investment in workforce development. To this end, via partners and DOL-ETA funding, Ohio Means Jobs is able to offer adult workers unprecedented opportunities to access exciting new chances at employment.

At the Ohio Means Jobs Center of Columbus-Franklin County, job seekers may receive assistance with any number of the following:

  • Job search assistance
  • How to use OMJ’s jobseeker page model (powered by Monster)
  • Identifying Ohio’s most in-demand jobs
  • Career and employment counseling for K-12 students
  • Assistance for veterans in transition to a civilian lifestyle and/or work schedule
  • How to use OMJ’s occupational search engine
  • Aptitude, skills, and strengths tests
  • Registering for career fairs, workshops, and other jobs events
  • Help with OMJ assessment and training modules
  • Assistance for those younger adults pursuing their GED, TASC, or HiSET tests
  • Budgeting and budget calculation
  • Resume writing
  • Using the new OMJ smartphone app
  • Cover letter writing
  • Establishing a career profile
  • Applying for jobs online
  • Registering for apprenticeships via ApprenticeOhio
  • Help with registering for local schools and colleges
  • The various “areas” and their local workforce development boards

With a helping hand from the OMJ-CFC’s Business Solutions team, interested employers are in a unique position to interface with people who are ready to work. With access to talented, motivated candidates at all levels of skill, the Ohio Means Jobs Business Solutions team can help companies in search of the ideal employee. In a sense, then, the WDBCO model is a two-way street, allowing access to employees just as well as it helps connect workers to their new jobs. This is in addition to a variety of resources that assist with hiring and training needs.

In 2020 and beyond, WDBCO president and CEO Lisa Patt-McDaniel has no plans of slowing her organization’s momentum. “[We are] dedicated to developing and advancing the workforce to meet the current and future workforce needs of the communities we serve,” she says. The organization will keep striving to close those skills gaps as long as interest in adult reskilling continues to grow.

Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker is a feature writer, poet, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His writing on remote work, education, and technology has been published by BustedCubicle.com, MedicalTechnologySchools.com, and other websites. His poetry, short fiction, and album reviews have appeared in Scifaikuest, Nanoism, and No Clean Singing. His background includes time spent as an associate editor, proofreader, private grammar instructor, freelance content editor, medical claims agent, and SEO consultant. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied literature and worked as a composition tutor.