Ohio Has Assets to Retool and Reinvest in Our People
Skilled workers were crucial before the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re needed even more as we recover.
Like most states and regions, Ohio and Colerain Township have felt serious impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. While our governor and his team received praise for their decisive early actions, certain businesses and industries may have a tough road back from resulting economic losses; for some, the return could be a long one. While businesses start to re-open, it is unclear where they are going to find the skilled workers they need.
Even before the pandemic, Ohio faced a massive skills gap. To compete effectively in the global economy, about 65 percent of Ohio adults would need to have a post-secondary credential of some kind, such as a four-year degree, an associate’s degree, or a certificate or credential for an in-demand occupation.
Currently, Ohio sits at 45.5 percent of adults earning such a credential, ranking us 31st in the nation and behind several nearby states.
That simple, yet sobering fact is the centerpiece of a recent brief from ReadyNation, an organization of over 2,700 global business leader members, myself included. Frustrating the progress toward closing our skills gap, many programs are unsure how they will be able to offer hands-on training in this new age of social distancing. That is a particularly urgent problem because the current health crisis has shown just how crucial these workers in many essential and front-line industries are.
For example, health care workers are often trained in programs requiring a certain amount of time spent outside the classroom in clinical settings. Likewise, there is increasing demand for logistics and supply chain management, as anyone who has gone grocery shopping lately can attest. Yet, these programs are also struggling to offer hands-on training in certain areas. Ohio is home to large, nationally-recognized organizations in both the health care and logistics fields, with those skills in great demand.
Fortunately, the ReadyNation brief also offers solutions, calling for increased investment in three policies Ohio has adopted that have helped address these problems. They are TechCred, OCOG, and Choose Ohio First.
Tech Cred, established in 2019, provides businesses with an opportunity to diversify their employees’ current skill-set and ready future employees for jobs in technology-focused fields by providing funding for 20,000 industry-relevant credentials over the next two years.
The Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG) offers increased state-funded financial aid for economically disadvantaged students with an eye towards encouraging degree completion. It would be helpful in our recovery to restore funding to earlier levels.
Choose Ohio First (COF) Scholarship Program provides funding for students pursuing STEM or STEM education careers. Recent funding boosts are a positive step for growing Ohio’s future workforce. Such programs are pivotal for ensuring that students have access to the opportunities they need to thrive in the workforce, and that Ohio’s employers have a competitive pool to draw from now and into the future.
The ReadyNation brief also calls attention to the significant earnings advantages for skilled workers. This shortage of available workers comes at a high cost for individuals, businesses, and the economy. Ohioans with a bachelor’s degree also out-earn by more than $20,000 per year those who only have a high school diploma, at $52,656 compared to $30,708.
With more than half of Ohio’s jobs being “middle-skill” jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree, it is crucial to encourage both younger people and working adults seeking to re-tool their skills to consider an associate degree, certificate, and credential programs. These usually require less time to complete than a bachelor’s degree, which in return offer higher wages and oftentimes increased benefits than jobs requiring only a high-school diploma. Individuals who have attained some post-secondary education credits may work with advisers that can help parlay those previous classroom experiences and certifications as partial progress towards completion; this can save both individuals and employers even more time and money.
The bottom line is that Ohio faces a significant workforce skills gap that compromises our ability to compete in the global economy. This was true before the pandemic, and as we emerge from it, we will need to work together—employers, educators, and people of all ages—with greater focus on retooling and reinvesting in important human resources.
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