*This story first appeared in The Budget’s May 2, 2018, Local Edition
By Stacey Carmany
As unemployment rates continue to fall throughout the area, it’s becoming more challenging for businesses to find workers to fill their vacant positions.
“Probably the biggest challenge is finding people for skilled positions,” said Mark Leininger, executive director of the Holmes County Economic Development Council (HCEDC), which works primarily with area manufacturing businesses to promote investment in Holmes County. “I think they’ re also encountering problems filling just entry-level positions and finding people who will show up and are ready to work, sort of the bare minimum requirements for holding a job.”
According to new county-level data recently released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Holmes
County’s unemployment rate was 2.9 percent in March, representing the third lowest rate among the state’s 88 counties and a decrease from 3.3 percent in February and 3.5 percent the previous March.
“When you’re at 3 percent, for the most part, everybody who wants to work is working,” explained Leininger, who is also a member of the Workforce Policy Board for Holmes, Wayne and Ashland counties. “If unemployment is low, it’s good, but you also need enough workers to support expanded operations. That’s the challenge.”
Leininger added that one of the comments he frequently hears when working with employers in Holmes County is that they would like to expand their current operations but simply don’t have the manpower. “When I go out and talk to business owners, and I ask what’s the biggest challenge you face, more often than not, it’s they have a hard time find- ing workers,” he explained. “[It’s], ‘we would grow or we would add this product line or we would add a second shift or whatever if we had the workers.’ ”
Employers in Tuscarawas and Stark counties have also been experiencing similar challenges.
Tuscarawas County’s unemployment rate for March was 4.6 percent, down from 5 percent in February and 5.6 percent in March of 2017. In Stark County, the unemployment rate came in at 5 percent for March, down from 5.2 percent in February and 5.7 percent the previous March. In both counties, unemployment rates remain slightly above the state and national rates for March, which came in at 4.1 and 4.3 percent.
“We see a lot lately where an employer will say, ‘We just need a good person who wants to work and will show up for work,’ ” said Kelly Haer, business services manager for OhioMeansJobs Stark & Tuscarawas Counties. “I think that’s the main thing right now. Employers are willing to train. They’re willing to invest in their people. They just need to find the person that’s the right fit.”
In terms of jobs that are in demand, there has been a growing need in both Stark and Tuscarawas counties and throughout the state for skilled healthcare workers including nursing assistants, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, medical assistants and medical secretaries, according to Monica Rose Gwin, public relations specialist for Workforce Initiative Association, the company that operates the OhioMeansJobs centers in Tuscarawas and Stark counties.
Computer systems analysts, customer service reps, software developers, construction workers, and market research analysts also rank among the jobs that are in the most demand statewide, and in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties, there continues to be a need for additional workers in the advanced manufacturing sector.
“The job market for us is just fairly open,” Haer said. “It was hard for us to come up with sectors that weren’t hiring at this time.”
In addition, the opioid crisis has also been fueling an increased demand in both Tuscarawas and Stark counties for licensed independent social workers and masters degree counselors, according to Jennifer Meek Eells, executive director for the Stark Tuscarawas Workforce Development Board. “For individuals that are looking to get into some of the helping fields, that’s definitely going to continue to be in demand for quite a while in the region,” she shared.
For Holmes County, Leininger said the majority of the new jobs available fall within five different sectors: manufacturing; construction; trade, transportation and utilities; hospitality and leisure; and education and health services. “Those have all grown in the last five years,” he said. “Trade, transportation and utilities has grown the most. It’s about a 32 percent growth rate from 2010, and manufacturing grew by about 27 percent. Manufacturing positions are growing more locally than they are statewide.”
To help area employers meet their need for skilled workers, there has been an increasing focus in all three counties on partnering with area schools to help prepare students for the jobs of the future.
“We try to stay connected with the schools, the career centers and superintendents of the local schools to try to keep them apprised of the employment opportunities and to ensure that the courses they’ re offering are preparing people for the jobs that will be available and to just apprise students of opportunities,” Leininger shared.
Meek Eells noted that Tuscarawas County, in particular, is very fortunate in that it is home to schools that are willing to partner with the local workforce development board to help meet local employment needs. “Our branch of Kent State University at Tuscarawas and Buckeye Career Center, in particular, really do some great training and are always work- ing with our board and our OhioMeansJobs Center,” she said. “If there’s a need that’s in demand, typically, they can respond pretty quickly and either help us connect with some individuals that have gone through their training or, if they need to retool some of their training, we can sit down and talk about that.”
In addition, funding is also available through the OhioMeansJobs centers in all three counties to help job seekers and employers cover the costs of training. For more information, call 330-674- 1111 in Holmes County, 330-364- 9777 in Tuscarawas, or 330-433-9675 in Stark County.