Home » Jobs, jobs, jobs: Forum focuses on making Ohio lives better through workforce development – Akron Beacon Journal

Jobs, jobs, jobs: Forum focuses on making Ohio lives better through workforce development – Akron Beacon Journal

by Arifa Rana

Across the United States, hiring is increasing and the employment rate is low.
Yet, inflation is high, causing people to pay more for food, fuel, housing and more.
And the number of people with jobs still lags behind pre-COVID-19 days as the nation continues to work to return to normalcy under an evolving pandemic.
What better time to talk about how workforce development can make people’s lives better in Ohio?
That was the focus Thursday before about 250 people at the annual Ohio Economic Forum at the University of Akron, with Loretta Mester, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, as keynote speaker. Mester talked about the lessons over four decades that the Fed has learned about workforce development, touched on what the Fed is doing to combat today’s high inflation and took part in a panel discussion.
Mester said she hopes the audience in the Taber Student Union grand ballroom came away with an understanding of the Federal Reserve’s experience with workforce and community development and the “resources for employers and for potential employees to understand what their job prospects are.
“I hope that the people from government agencies and educational agencies and the employers here, the private sector employers, understand that it really does take commitment on the part of all on those entities working together to actually move the needle here,” she said. “And I think it’s in everyone’s best interests that we do so, because that workforce is really the foundational piece for a strong economy.”
The forum, organized by the university’s Department of Economics in the College of Business, brings in people to discuss economic issues facing Northeast Ohio and elsewhere.
The theme in Thursday afternoon’s two-hour event was “Education and Workforce Development: The Key to Ohio’s Economic Future.” The program grew out of a recent publication co-authored by Ali Enami, assistant professor of economics at the university, that said increasing teacher pay in high poverty school districts is the most cost-effective way for Ohio to improve student test scores in those districts.
The Federal Reserve’s decades of research and outreach have determined that successful workforce development efforts have four common themes, Mester said:
• Collaboration and commitment among public, private and nonprofit entities.
• Communication among employers, employees and trainers is needed to make sure that programs tackle the right problems.
• Place matters. Employers are often drawn to places that will attract workers.
• Workforce development programs need to be regularly evaluated to see if they are effective.
After her talk, Mester took part in a panel discussion with Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Foundation; Christina Collins, who represents eight Northeast Ohio counties on the State Board of Education; and Jill Penrose, chief people and administrative officer at the J.M. Smucker Co. in Orrville.
The James Foundation is working to help struggling adults and children, Campbell said. The pandemic has set back school-age children, and the foundation is working to help them make up all the ground they have lost the past two years, she said.
Mester said high inflation currently is hurting lower income people more than high income people because the costs of essential goods and services are rising faster than the costs of nonessentials. The Federal Reserve is taking steps to curb inflation, she said.
“We need to get it down. We need to get it under control,” she said. “That’s our biggest challenge now.”
Beacon Journal reporter Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.

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