Janice Urbanik, executive director of Partners for a Competitive Workforce
in Greater Cincinnati
Can a cooperative regional
approach help to resolve the skills gap?
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Competitiveness
Interview September 5, 2014
John Adams, Paul Gilje
(coordinator), Sallie Kemper, Dan Loritz (chair), Dana Schroeder,
Clarence Shallbetter. By phone: Dave Broden (vice chair), Janice
Janice Urbanik of Partners
for a Competitive Workforce (PCW) in the Greater Cincinnati region
shares her organization's efforts to fill a gap that also exists in
the Twin Cities: employers have open jobs, but can't find people with
the right skills to fill them, despite the existence of a sizeable
pool of unemployed or underemployed people. She asserts that this
skills gap in Cincinnati's tri-state region is limiting employers'
ability to compete, individual's ability to provide for their families
and the region's ability to grow existing companies and attract new
Urbanik's partnership is a
private-sector-led collaboration of 150 organizations that works: (1)
to connect businesses that have existing employment needs to qualified
workers available right now; (2) to build career pathways in the four
targeted industries of health care, manufacturing, construction and
IT; and (3) to assure that service providers all include in their
programs training in core work readiness competencies that employers
have identified as just as important as the technical skills needed
for a job. PCW has also started a Talent Pipeline initiative, which
focuses on giving STEM experiences to students in the K-12 education
system and professional development on STEM careers to their teachers.
Urbanik reports that since 2008: (1) PCW's
partners have served over 7,800 adults, with 80 percent of them
getting jobs and 73 percent retaining those jobs for at least 12
months; (2) people who have gone through a PCW career pathway program
have a 40 percent higher employment rate and up to 58 percent higher
earnings than people in the region who've gone through more
traditional training programs; and (3) people who've gone through a
PCW pathway program earn an average of $7,500 more per year than
before, pumping an additional $7.3 million into the regional economy.
PCW, Urbanik notes, is currently putting
together a plan to reach the broad goal of 90 percent of the regional
workforce being gainfully employed and earning at least 200 percent of
the federal poverty level for a family of four.
Janice Urbanik is executive
director of Partners for a Competitive Workforce, a partnership in the
tri-state region of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. The partnership, an
initiative of the United Way of Cincinnati, is focused on meeting
employer demand by growing the skills of the region's current and
future workforce. The organization was created in 2008, building on a
10-year history of collaboration to meet regional workforce needs by
businesses, workforce investment boards, educational institutions,
philanthropic funders and community organizations.
Urbanik's focus is developing the talent
supply chains for the regional industry sectors with in-demand jobs by
aligning education with industry needs through career pathways. She is
on the Board/Leadership Council for the Women's Fund of the Greater
Cincinnati Foundation, Jostin Construction, the National Network of
Sector Partners and the Spirit of Construction Foundation.
She is heavily involved in efforts to
increase the number of women in nontraditional careers. Urbanik and
her work teams have been recognized nationally for their work in
assisting underrepresented populations to attain careers in
construction and manufacturing. She has a B.S. in mechanical
engineering from the University of Pittsburgh.
Background. The Civic Caucus invited
Janice Urbanik to discuss her organization's approach to reducing the
gap between the skills required for jobs employers are trying to fill
and the skills held by people in the Greater Cincinnati region's
current and future workforce. Members of the Civic Caucus wondered if
any of her organization's ideas and approaches could be imported to
Minnesota, which is facing the same skills gap issue, as identified in
Employers have open
jobs, but can't find people with the right skills to fill them.
That was reported by over half the employers surveyed in the Greater
Cincinnati region, according to Janice Urbanik of Partners for a
Competitive Workforce (PCW), a tri-state initiative of the
United Way of Cincinnati that includes southwestern Ohio, northern
Kentucky and southeastern Indiana. "That is our regional economy," she
Urbanik noted that in the Greater Cincinnati
30,000 jobs are open at any one time, yet 130,000 people are
unemployed, underemployed, or have stopped looking for work.
Ninety percent of jobs in the region that pay well require some
postsecondary education or training.
Nearly half of the regional workforce has no education after
The skills gap in the tri-state region is
limiting employers' ability to compete, individuals' ability to
provide for their families and the region's ability to grow existing
companies and attract new ones.
PCW is a collaboration formed in 2008 of
over 150 organizations involved in workforce development and is led by
employers. "We need to be sure that everything we do is in sync
with meeting a stated and known employer need," Urbanik said.
She said the 150 partners include anyone who
has a stake in workforce development: employers, workforce investment
boards, chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, community
colleges, universities, philanthropic organizations, K-12 education,
The partnership works in four different
industry sectors, each of which is chaired by an employer: health
care, manufacturing, construction and information technology(IT).
These sectors represent over 30 percent of the jobs in the region.
Currently, Urbanik reported, construction accounts for 3.5 percent of
the jobs; manufacturing, 11 percent; health care, 14 percent; and IT,
PCW works in three different areas:
1. Connecting jobs and job-seekers.
Workforce investment boards collaborate through the Employers First
Regional Workforce Network to connect businesses that have existing
employment needs to qualified workers who are ready and available
2. Building career pathways. The
Career Pathways initiative aims to align training programs with
employer needs in four targeted industries: health care,
manufacturing, construction and IT; a fifth, transportation
distribution and logistics will likely be added soon. According to
Urbanik, PCW selected the targeted industries based on labor market
data and conversations with employers that indicated there are jobs
open now and into the future in those industries. Aligning education
and training programs with industry needs helps individuals develop
the skills they need to get in-demand jobs and helps employers
access the skilled workers they need to compete. The pathways
programs also assist individuals who have significant barriers to
employment, such as child care needs, transportation problems,
criminal records and limited English.
3. Ensuring work readiness.
work readiness collaborative consists of community-based service
providers and education and training providers. It acts to ensure
that service providers all include in their programs training in
core work readiness competencies that employers have identified as
just as important as the technical skills needed for a job. These
competencies include taking initiative, dependability, time
management, problem solving, writing, and dressing appropriately.
The work of PCW's partners in the Cincinnati
region has been recognized as a national model in several different
venues. Urbanik said the recognition includes the partnership
being highlighted in a recent report by Vice President Joe Biden on
PCW serves as the facilitator of various
workforce initiatives in the region and doesn't offer any direct
services itself. Rather, it makes the connections between employer
needs and the providers who can fill those needs, Urbanik said..
Since 2008, the work of PCW's partners has
delivered the following results for adults:
Over 7,800 people have been served; 80 percent of them have
gotten jobs and 73 percent have retained those jobs for at least 12
Compared with people who have gone through more traditional
training programs, people who have gone through a pathway program
have a 40 percent higher employment rate and up to 58 percent higher
People who've gone through a pathway program earn an average of
$7,500 a year more than before. Those higher wages pump an
additional $7.3 million into the regional economy.
PCW's workforce initiatives are focused on
meeting employer needs, both in filling open positions and delivering
a real return on investment (ROI). Urbanik said three health-care
employers conducted an ROI or business value assessment and they all
found positive quantitative and qualitative outcomes: reduced
turnover, wage gains, increased racial diversity of their workforce,
and improved staff morale and engagement.
Starting in 2013, employers encouraged PCW
to get involved in the K-12 system. According to Urbanik,
employers in construction, manufacturing and IT were telling PCW that
the "pipeline" was dry and that youth in the K-12 system were not
being encouraged to enter those fields.
In response, PCW started its Talent Pipeline
initiative, which is heavily focused on STEM experiences. Urbanik said
the vision for the Talent Pipeline is that every child in every school
every semester has at least one career exploration experience that
helps prepare them for success after graduation. An important part of
that vision, she said, is professional development for teachers, many
of whom have no understanding of what working in the targeted
industries is like.
During the 2013-2014 school year, the Talent
Pipeline's STEM Collaborative served over 1,300 students and 500
adults by exposing them to STEM careers.
In 2011, the region set bold goals for
education, income and health:
Education outcome goals deal with early childhood
education, kindergarten readiness, high school graduation rates and
postsecondary certification attainment.
are that everybody has a medical home and a
regular doctor, has access to health care and rates their health as
excellent or very good.
is that 90 percent of the regional workforce,
including people who've stopped looking for jobs, is gainfully
employed. Urbanik said that figure is currently 88 percent, which
means that 24,000 more people in the region need to be employed.
While working towards the Income Bold Goal, Urbanik said, PCW will
also be tracking whether the jobs it is helping people get lead to
self-sufficiency. Right now, only 70 percent of the population is
earning at least 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a
family of four. That means 430,000 more people need to move above
the 200 percent mark to reach the 90 percent goal. Urbanik said PCW
is currently putting together a plan to reach the income goal by
The majority of families in the region have
three or more members; a high percentage has a single wage-earner.
Urbanik said the demographic of single wage earners and female heads
of household is rather uniform across the region, that is, in urban,
rural and suburban areas. "It's not just an inner-city problem," she
said. "It's widespread."
PCW is private-sector led, but government is
involved. Urbanik noted that the workforce investment boards get
federal and state funding and that PCW has gotten several state, local
and federal grants. She said a key component of PCW's work is policy
advocacy, so the organization partners with government agencies on
policy discussions and questions. But, she pointed out, no elected
officials currently serve on PCW committees.
PCW also works with higher-end jobs in the
workforce. Urbanik said employers have a big need for engineers,
as well as for machinists and welders. In health care the pathways
programs top out at the bachelor's degree nursing level. For
construction, PCW deals with construction manager and engineering
positions and in manufacturing, with electrical, mechanical, systems
and manufacturing engineers. In IT, PCW works almost exclusively at
the bachelor's level, targeting people who lost their IT jobs because
they didn't keep their skills up or people at the associate or
bachelor's level who want to change careers and go into IT.
Several career-technical education systems
serve the Greater Cincinnati region. Urbanik noted the following:
in southwestern Ohio. It is
one of the largest career-technical education systems in the country
for both high school and adult workforce development. Since 1970,
Great Oaks has been providing career development, workforce
development and economic development services to individuals,
business, industry, labor, communities and other organizations in
southwest Ohio. "They are heavily engaged in everything we're doing
in the health care, construction and manufacturing pathways,"
in Ohio, one
of the state's largest career-technical schools, is
very similar to Great Oaks, serving both high school students and
adults. But it serves a different part of the region.
the school districts themselves offer
career-tech education. Urbanik said each county has been taking a
different approach. One county transitioned their career-tech
schools into career academies, each geared toward a different
vocation: manufacturing, biomedical, media arts and energy careers.
Students go to their home schools in the morning and to the career
academies in the afternoons.
are very engaged in everything PCW is
doing. They have programs aligned with PCW's career pathways.
Urbanik said employers in the region
participate in curriculum planning at these institutions through
advisory councils and have even written the curriculum for a new
manufacturing apprenticeship program started by PCW and heavily
supported by two workforce investment boards. The employers developed
an RFP(Request for Proposal) for educational institutions and picked
which schools would be delivering the curriculum for various
specialties, such as machining and welding.
Even with these good training programs, it
is sometimes a struggle to get people into the classes. For
example, Urbanik said, Great Oaks struggles every year to fill its
plumbing program. When an interviewer asked why this is so difficult,
Urbanik responded that for a long time, we as a society devalued
career-tech education, promoted college for everyone and claimed that
these industries were dying. "That kind of culture shift takes a long
time to move," she said.
As an example, she cited a focus group she
facilitated with eight mothers of middle school and high school
students. She talked to them about various careers and, she said,
"They all said, 'college, college, college.' They believe a college
degree will give their children choices." At the end of the session,
she asked them about having their children take part in an
apprenticeship program after high school, in which the participants
would start at $15 an hour and within three years be making $50,000.
The employer would pay for the program, resulting in no college debt.
"Every one of the mothers said 'no,'" Urbanik said.
The best training is done in partnership
between employers and the educational institutions. Urbanik
believes the employer should lead any company-specific training. "But
apprenticeship programs or entry-level or mid-level skill training is
best done in partnership, because many employers have similar needs
and costs can be reduced by sharing across several employers" she
Job growth is in the suburbs. Urbanik
noted that there are unemployed and underemployed people in the
suburbs, as well as in the inner city. But it's hard to get to the
suburban jobs without a car, since bus systems aren't as prevalent in
the suburbs. She said there are some efforts to do redevelopment and
bring back urban manufacturing closer to where the population centers
are. But it's cheaper to build on farmland than to do demolition and
rebuilding, she said.
Despite the collaboration in the tri-state
region, some public officials in each state still want to recruit jobs
from the other two states. Urbanik said that even though there is
a regional economic development group that "works hard to pitch the
region," states and localities in the region are still heavily
involved in offering financial incentives for businesses to locate or
relocate in their state or city. "That's an ever-present reality that
complicates getting organizations to work collaboratively on regional
initiatives," she said.
Cincinnati's airport is a major sore spot in
the region, since it is no longer a hub, following major changes with
Delta. Urbanik said the number of flights to the airport has been
cut severely, "fares have gone through the roof," and global companies
can't get direct flights overseas. "It's a huge issue," she said.
While the region has, in the aggregate, met
the overall goal that 85 percent of high school students graduate,
there are big school-by-school differences. Urbanik noted that the
career technical school in the Cincinnati public school district,
which is predominantly African American, has a graduation rate of 51
percent. There are still educational disparities, which a multitude of
programs are working to address, she said.
The manufacturing base in the region was
severely hit by the recession because of a dependence on the auto
industry. "But it's coming back big," Urbanik said, along with the
The Civic Caucus
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includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (coordinator), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted
Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman