Most people want to forget what it feels like to be unemployed. Don Wolf remembers. And he credits people such as Karen Tate and Mike Daly with making the six months between losing his job in December and landing a new job with Bridgestone Firestone in June a time of inspiration gained and lessons learned.
Tate helped Wolf figure out what he really needed from an employer and encouraged him to wait for the right opportunity. “[Daly] always went the extra mile, made contacts for me and inspired me,” Wolf says.
The pair work for Cleveland’s Employment Connection, a publicly funded jobs program that worked through its own employment shock waves last year.
Like many workforce development programs throughout the country, Employment Connection had operated for more than a decade on a social service model. The agency spent nearly 80 percent of its budget on job seeker services, offering them occupational skills training and expecting them to find jobs. About 10 percent of its resources
were directed toward meeting employers’ needs.
Growing frustrations with the ineffectiveness of that model in a tight job market, Employment Connection’s senior management team — Judith Weyburne, Frank Brickner
and Larry Benders — needed to evaluate their approach. “We decided we had to do something different,” Weyburne says.
Faced with a 40 percent budget cut that required staff reductions and site closings, the trio created a new workforce development system focused on helping local employers find qualified candidates to fill current job openings in real time.
They opted to run the program more like a private employment agency by hiring sales people and recruiters to cultivate relationships with local employers. They still pay for training, but only when a job is waiting.
From July to December 2010, Employment Connection met with 630 employers from 3,500 initial contacts, sent 5,900 job seekers on interviews and placed 1,300 people at 818 companies. Placement wages ranged from $15,288 per year to $108,000 per year. (By comparison, they had placed 1,500 people in the prior 12-month period and contacted only 1,050 employers over the prior 10 years combined.)
“It’s a great service,” says Phyliss Mossbruger, human resources manager for Alphaport, an engineering services company. “Employers should be taking advantage of this.”
At least six of her company’s 50 or so employees benefited directly from some combination of Employment Connection’s hiring or training services in the past year.
Alphaport was so impressed with the job-training program that it uses the system developed to track employee training hours.
Bill Cline, a longtime manufacturing manager whose local plant closed in May 2010, says Employment Connection reached out to his company, providing in-house consultation to help displaced workers begin planning for their future.
“They laid out their services, let us know what benefits we were eligible for and gave us contacts to call even before the plant closed,” he says.
Cline’s manufacturing background, coupled with training in recruiting he received, equipped him for a new position with Towards Employment.
“You knew you were never alone,” Cline adds. “And it was free, no cost. It’s fantastic.”
To date, Weyburne says, Employment Connection has placed people at more than 1,200 companies in jobs ranging from minimum wage to $125 per hour with an average wage of $11.56 per hour.
The Cleveland agency is on track to make 40 percent of all Workforce Investment Act placements in the state even though this region only has 11 percent of the population and receives 10 percent of federal Workforce Investment Act funds allocated by the state.
Word of Cleveland’s new approach is spreading. Employment Connection regularly gets calls from other cities looking for more effective ways to match qualified people with available jobs.
“The vibe is so great,” Weyburne says. “It’s been wonderful. What feels better than being able to say, ‘I got somebody a job?’ ”
City of Cleveland; Rid-All Green Partnership; Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc.; and Ohio State University Extension, Cuyahoga County
Project: Urban Agriculture Incubator Pilot Program
The Urban Agriculture Incubator Pilot Program would be commendable even if all it did was re-green 6 acres of vacant property in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. But that’s just a side benefit of this public-private partnership created to cultivate a new crop of urban farmers.
Initially, quarter-acre garden plots are being leased to 20 participants enrolled in the incubator project. In exchange for selling their fruits and vegetables locally, they get a chance to turn their love of gardening into a new vocation.
One half acre site has been reserved as a demonstration area where The Ohio State University Extension, Cuyahoga County, is offering intensive, hands-on training for the prospective farmers in urban agriculture, direct marketing and business planning. More land is available so the incubator can grow over time.
Cleveland won the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s first $740,000 grant through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
The state and the city each committed an additional $100,000. The city donated the vacant land, and Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc. recruited project participants from the community.
City of Solon and the city of Twinsburg
Project: Relocations of businesses between Twinsburg and Solon
Solon and Twinsburg are next-door neighbors in different counties — Solon in Cuyahoga and Twinsburg in Summit. Still, they have much in common. Both have sizable industrial and office bases. Both use similar incentive programs to attract and retain businesses. In 2010, they made a surprisingly simple deal to protect their own interests while looking out for the best interests of their neighbors.
Now, when a business considers moving from Solon to Twinsburg or vice versa, the potential destination city agrees to adhere to specific caps in commonly used incentive programs while the home city remains free to offer any and all incentives available to retain existing businesses.
Each city agrees not to actively solicit the relocation of companies from one city to the other, and both pledge to notify one another when a company in one city approaches the other seeking relocation incentives. Their agreement is simple to administer. It avoids complicated revenue sharing arrangements and avoids inefficiencies of having to negotiate and administer numerous city-to-city agreements each time a company relocates.
Leaders in both cities say the agreement can easily be expanded to include other Northeast Ohio communities interested in fostering mutual growth and regional cooperation.