Narrowing the Skills Gap in Ohio
Closing opportunity gaps by removing barriers for underserved and underrepresented Ohioans
As a Doctor of Public Health and Chief Executive Director of American Fitness Health & Wellness Institute and a Senior Pastor of Abundant Season Church working with local youth, I am greatly interested in the health and success of young people. Our church is instrumental in a strategic plan to assist pre-teens and teenagers the best start in life.
Ohio has a number of options for people seeking greater education, by completion of their diploma or GED, acquiring industry credentials and certificates, as well as achieving a bachelor’s degree. Yet, Ohio still has a lot of work to do to help our youth compete in the global economy, or even to keep up with some of our nearby states, who have higher rates of postsecondary attainment than we do. As someone who values the highest levels of education earning three doctorate degrees, and growing up in the inner city, I know that we can achieve this goal.
This is why I am sharing the work of the Ohio Attainment Coalition and its report, Bridging Ohio’s Workforce Gap. Accomplished with the input of more than 40 leading business and education stakeholders, the report notes both a persistent “skills gap” and an “achievement gap.” The skills gap pertains to the differences between the skills employers need and the skills the workforce possesses. The achievement gap measures differences between white students and persons of color.
Strategies in the report addressing both gaps include greater use of the Ohio Department of Education’s “Equity Labs” on a regional basis. Programs such as the 22+ Adult Diploma provide free opportunities for adults previously unable to complete schooling obtain a high school diploma or GED. This is a first step to attaining a degree or postsecondary credential.
Greater state investment in programs, the report cites such as Tech Cred, established last year; which, provides businesses with an opportunity to up-skill current and future employees for jobs in technology-focused fields by providing funding for 20,000 technology-focused credentials over the next two years, will help Ohioans learn the skills needed in the current economy.
In addition, the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG) has provided increased state-funded financial aid for economically disadvantaged students with an interest towards encouraging degree completion. Moreover, the Choose Ohio First (COF) Scholarship Program provides funding for students pursuing STEM or STEM education careers. Recent expansion of this program is a positive step for growing Ohio’s future workforce which will also help bolster Ohio’s attainment rates.
These programs and similar programs will be important tools in closing the skills gap and the achievement gap; however, there is still significant work to be done Data shows a persistent 13-percent gap between the attainment levels of non-white, underrepresented minorities and those of their white peers. At the same time, attainment also varies widely within the state, with some counties approaching a 60 percent attainment rate for its adults while others are struggling to reach 20 percent.
Fortunately, the report has as its first guiding principle “Equity-Centered: Close opportunity gaps by removing barriers for underserved and underrepresented Ohioans.” I strongly urge policymakers to prioritize this initiative; and, keep this guiding principle front and center. By embracing this first principle will go a long way towards addressing both the skills gap and the achievement gap.
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