ELYRIA — Manufacturing jobs in Elyria are looking to hire, yet the consensus among many is that there are no jobs in the city.
It’s a quagmire Mayor Holly Brinda said is directly tied to the progress of Elyria, the ability to sustain Elyria services and the level to which Elyria families struggle in poverty. And it is something she wants to see changed and is using workforce development as the basis of an ambitious grant proposal she submitted to Bloomberg Philanthropies in New York City.
Elyria’s entry into Bloomberg’s 2017 Mayors Challenge puts the city among 300 other municipalities vying for up to $5 million in grant funding in a nationwide competition. The idea is to find the most pressing need in a community and develop a community approach toward a solution.
In Elyria, the immediate need is jobs, Brinda said, who dubbed the city’s workforce development initiative as “Elyria Works Now.”
“There is this general perception that there are no jobs in the city, but almost daily I get input from employers that say they have jobs they can’t fill,” she said. “It led me to do this deep dive into the situation and at the same time I was corresponding with Bloomberg on entering the Mayors Challenge. For two months, they sent facilitators to the city to help lead a conversation that involves solving the problem with input from local leadership.”
Betsy Trump, college and career counselor at Elyria High School, said the push to get high school students to pursue higher education has had the adverse effect of making students think manufacturing jobs are not viable paths for the future. She said it is her job to ensure students know all of the options available to them. She joined the Mayors Challenge team to further that conversation in the community.
“Every time I do a classroom presentation I start off by saying you have a lot of options. College is just one. A trade is one and the military is also one,” she said. “For a long time, all they heard is everyone has to go to college if they want to be successful. We know there is another way.”
Elyria has a severe workforce shortage in manufacturing, health care and transportation. According to Elyria’s grant application, of the 18 manufactures that provided answers to a work survey, 16 report difficulties in filling positions, with 73 entry-level and
84 skilled positions open. The majority of entry-level positions require only a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn.
“The skill gaps between what jobs are available and the skills required to fulfill the position is not just about being able say you’re a mechanic, machinists or welder,” said Chad Grude, owner and business development specialist of Express Employment Professionals. “It is more heavily weighed toward understanding what work ethic is about, having ambition, and being able to hold a job and be an employee.”
There are a lot of barriers to employment in Elyria from past felony conviction, drug use by applicants and education. But by far the one Grude said he has seen is consistently is transportation. Elyria residents can’t get to work, he said.
Elyria Works Now, so far, includes representatives from the city, Elyria Community Improvement Corporation, Invest Elyria, Elyria Arts Council, Elyria Schools, Lorain County Joint Vocational School, Lorain County Community College, Ohio Business College, Lorain County Chamber of Commerce, Elyria Public Library, Elyria Foundry, United Initiators, Lorain County Urban League, Elyria NAACP, and St. Mary Parish/Elyria Ministerial Association and Express Employment Professionals.
The plan includes developing a collaborative network that will strengthen job connections between employers and job candidates, education and training when needed and support so job seekers can access higher-paying jobs. Employers involved in the pilot will commit to employment goals,
family-friendly hiring practices and employee screenings that are open and inclusive.
If Elyria Works Now is a success, Brinda said the result could be the reduction of Elyria’s 22.2 percent poverty rate by as much as 5 percent and further closing the employment gap between companies facing labor shortages and residents who are underemployed or actively seeing work
“It’s a very ambitious project, but it’s designed to employ some folks that are unemployed or underemployed,” Brinda said. “It also has a financial impact for the city. For every 5 percent lower the poverty rate goes, those who are employed will generate $990,000 in additional income tax that translates to better city services.”
Brinda said the decision by Bloomberg should come by the end of January, but regardless of the outcome the partners at the table want to kick off Elyria Works Now in some capacity.
“This is the kind of group cause that can make a huge difference in our community,” she said.