State Works To Help Firms

NEW BREMEN — Workforce development is a top priority for the governor’s office, a state official said during a presentation with representatives from various departments in the region Monday morning.

Mark Birnbrich, with the Ohio Office of Workforce Transformation, began by noting there are 77 workforce programs in the state of Ohio that administers federal grants spread across 13 different agencies, with 1,300 different entrance points spread across those entities. Birnbrich spoke to a group of local economic development officials at New Bremen High School Monday morning.

He noted so far they’ve done focus group work.

“We gathered all info and aligned the data and started to say what does this mean for us and how are we going to get to where we need to be,” he said. “We took all that data and started mapping a framework of where we need to be and how we need to start doing this.”

Birnbrich noted the three goals they have to achieve through the Office of Workforce Transformation: Streamline our workforce systems, improve system performance and access and investing resources in business demand.

The first step in streamlining, he said, is regionalization — they are taking JobsOhio and creating smaller sub-regions in it.

“The JobsOhio regions are too big for workforce,” he said. “We’ll be breaking up a JobsOhio region into sub-regions to bring those regional folks together.”

Another part of streamlining is artificial intelligence.

“The individuals and employers can go to and say I have this, this and this need, what out of those 77 programs will fill that need?” Birnbrich said. “So we have to fulfill some artificial intelligence ... We need to get to a common point that we can explain to you at a very high level these are the seven out of the 77 programs that we feel can meet your needs and where we can go from there.”

Tied in with that, he said, is the workforce gateway that would consist of an online Internet-based gateway.

“Our goal is to have a single point of entry for an individual, and we’re actually talking career connections and all the way K-12,” Birnbrich said. “We’ve got to stop coloring bears and animals, and we’ve got to start coloring robots and solar panels and engineering and manufacturing and getting our kids minds to be thinking about that stuff.”

He noted students should understand career needs and repercussions and every person starts at the same place. It would be the same thing at an employer’s standpoint.

“One of the biggest things we heard from employers is that of the 13 agencies and the 77 programs, it doesn’t matter if it’s the same agency and one of their four programs through that agency you have to tell me who you are, and it’s the same agency and the same forms,” Birnbrich said.

“For all these programs, if you’re company ABC, you’re company ABC regardless if you’re doing anything for any one of these programs.”

For improving system performance and access, Birnbrich stressed self-sustaining jobs and a “concierge storage.”

“Having the ability that you as an employer has one place to call and say I have this ... What programs do you have out of the 77 that can solve this problem,” he said. “So we’re putting together sort of a hotline, we’re having online chat, all of these things centered around that give you easy access to be calling us and talking to us ... that you don’t have to figure out how to navigate the 77 — those are all things that we’re working on and where we’re headed.”

Career connections, he said, will focus on the education standpoint and making sure every school district has the same data about what’s happening with the job market and support programs.

“It doesn’t matter where you should be, you should have this access,” Birnbrich said. “Wherever we go, we hear the same message from employers about kids not understanding what they’re doing today and the repercussions of when they try to find a job later and advanced manufacturing and they don’t understand this and that and how we’re going to deliver that message.”

He noted the regionalization would be the same with training — such as there being one welding provider in the region and the state would support the one welding provider.

“Otherwise, we can’t keep spreading our resources all over the place, we don’t have the money,” he said.

“It’s going to be the local providers, businesses, the community, sitting around and saying here’s who wins this, here’s who gets this and how we’re going to do it.”

A pilot started in Cincinnati with training providers, business leaders, the local chamber, education and economic development people to have a discussion about the plan for that area, as well as forecasting — how to change the workforce system and training to understand the needs of employers.

“From that, we’re going to start building, this is the need that we hear today and here’s how we’re going to get it,” Birnbrich said. “We’re taking that (forecasting) model and that’s what we’re going to use to say that’s where we’re going to invest in our dollars because these are the employers who have spoke to us.”

Birnbrich stressed the changes for each region to be sustainable and long-lasting and what works for a larger area, such as Cleveland, may not work for a smaller town like New Bremen.

“We’re really trying to make sure as we do this, that we’re really trying to do it on a regional basis, smaller groups coming together and solving those problems,” he said.

As for a timeline for the changes, Birnbrich estimated everything could be in place and mapped by 2013. He also noted Ohio Means Jobs received a $12 million federal grant, which has affected the timeline because there’s already money in place.

Birnbrich also noted co-ops and internships and connecting students with businesses.

“We need to figure out how to fund these co-ops and internships and how businesses can reach out and pull these kids, but it’s got to be on a regional basis as we hear that information,” he said. “Not every region can handle that.”

He said that issue tied in with the third goal of investing resources in business demand.

“If we have a demand of co-ops and internships and on-the-job training, whatever it may be, we need to figure out how on a regional basis that these funds are being spent on those initiatives,” Birnbrich said.

“We’ve got to make sure the businesspeople are at the table.”

He said there are a plethora of grants that are very targeted on a specific group.

“We’re going to continue to go after that money because the last thing we want to do is not go after money that we can use to serve some individuals in the state of Ohio in those targeted groups,” Birnbrich said.

“It is all going to be about investing our resources in business demand, which means starting with forecasting, listening to the business community and changing those providers to understand it’s not about your performance that gets back to the federal government, it’s about our performance to the business leaders in Ohio and grow Ohio and change where we need to go.”

Birnbrich took questions from attendees, with one of the most brought up being the impression, especially on parents, that students need to go to college.

“We’ve all been ingrained that everyone needs to go to a two-year, four-year school or they’re not going to amount to anything in this world,” he said, noting he has seen the same thing with his two children.

“It’s so ingrained that everyone thinks that mentality — we’ve got to make sure that shift happens.”

Overall to end, he summarized his goals.

“That’s really our main focus is how we start streamlining, make it less bureaucratic and make it quick and easy for employers to get what they need and government stays out the way and do the minimum we have to do to report back to the feds,” Birnbrich said.