Last week, I heard from Daniel Brewer, a Navy veteran from Cincinnati who could not find a good paying job after returning from Afghanistan. Though Daniel had substantial training in the Navy, moving home to Ohio, he had trouble translating his skills into the civilian workforce.
Daniel’s experience is all too common. Time and time again I’ve heard similar stories throughout Ohio: biotech firms, high-tech manufacturers, and small businesses are hiring for open positions, but can’t find the workers with the right skills to fill these job openings. With too many Ohioans still unable to find work, we should be doing all that we can to ensure that our workers are qualified to fill Ohio jobs.
Since 2007, I’ve convened more than 215 roundtables across Ohio’s 88 counties, listening to community and business leaders, workers, and entrepreneurs on ways to strengthen our economy. A theme that developed early on was that despite high unemployment, employers are having a hard time finding workers with the skills necessary to fill the available jobs. As a result, job openings in high-growth industries, like healthcare, clean energy, and biosciences, and even the manufacturing sector, are going unfilled.
According to Forbes, Ohio ranks 10th per capita in the nation among states expecting the biggest looming skilled labor shortage – due, in part, to an aging population and limited workforce training resources.
The skills gap exists – especially for careers in high-tech fields. This gap denies workers new opportunities they deserve and undermines our nation’s economic competitiveness. It also limits our state’s ability to attract new jobs and businesses.
In response to the stories I heard during my early roundtables throughout Ohio about the need to close the skills gap, I first introduced the Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) in 2008. Last week, I reintroduced it with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME).
The SECTORS Act creates partnerships between educators, industry, and workforce training boards to ensure that workers have the right skills to get hired in high-tech, emerging industries with good-paying jobs. If we’re going to attract new employers, we need to ensure that local workforce development efforts support the needs of local industries. That’s what this bill does.
It means community colleges, whether it’s Cincinnati State, Tri-C, Zane State, and Sinclair State or Rhodes State, and workforce investment boards, industry, and labor, working together to serve local needs.
We know economic development and workforce skills training go hand-in-hand. We’ve seen this in Youngstown with NAMII. When the skilled workers are there, more investments follow. It’s not only good for businesses; this legislation is also important for Ohio families.
America has a unique opportunity to address the skills gap that prevents hardworking Americans—like Daniel Brewer—from finding good jobs and prohibits eager-to-grow companies from hiring the skilled workers needed to expand. We close the skills gap by going directly to the source of Ohio’s economic might: our skilled workers and innovative businesses.
Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.