Tackling an Employer's Toughest Workforce Challenge

You have to accept that the employer is the customer, not the job seeker.

Finding job seekers without employment barriers is more than a little challenge, especially when the need is for entry-level, low- or middle-skilled laborers. These days, an almost universal employer cry is, “Please get me somebody who will pass the drug test and will actually show up for work.”

The “actually show up for work” issue is complex in that there are lots of reasons why someone doesn’t make it in to work.  

Employment barriers run the gamut from a prior police record, unreliable transportation or child care, unstable housing, lack of a high school diploma or GED, substandard literacy, mental health issues and physical disabilities. 

And the biggest barrier—the one that stops the train in its tracks for so many job candidates—is a clean drug screen. As many as 60 percent of the low- to middle-skilled job seekers at the doors of local manufacturing employers are failing the employer’s drug screen. 

To take on the challenge of eliminating such barriers, you have to first accept that the employer is the customer, not the job seeker. 

For the Greater Lima region, the hiring outlook over the next eight years looks incredibly challenging. More than 22,000 additional jobs are projected to be filled by the year 2025. And based on the high percentage of manufacturing and skilled trades jobs in the region, more than half of the 22,000 may be low- and middle-skill jobs, the kind whose workforce presents those barriers. 

And the predicted job growth for the Greater Lima region over the next eight years is causing local leaders to rethink their workforce development strategy. But no matter what the source, the common trait among all of these positions is the employer needing to fill the slots to keep their business alive. The employer gets to decide if they can fill the jobs locally, or if it needs to import talent from out of the region, or, worst case and devastating to the region, move his/her business to where the workforce is, which may be out of state or out of the country.

Transform Consulting, workforce development specialists, were invited in to present a strategy redesign used successfully in other cities. Stakeholders from all corners of the community gathered to consider the impacts of the proposed strategy—employers, elected officials, social service agencies, educators, government offices and the Chamber of Commerce. The community vote to proceed was unanimous. 

Allen Economic Development Group agreed to serve as executive sponsor and hired Transform Consulting in November 2014 to quarterback the redesign. A $225,000 competitive state grant was secured from the Governor’s Office on Workforce Transformation to fund two years of pilot activities partnered with OhioMeansJobs-Allen County, and focused first on advanced manufacturing.

The redesign—nicknamed “Link Lima”—focused on making the process and its priorities completely employer-centric and employer-driven, re-engineering how the Allen County office of OhioMeansJobs screens job candidates before they can be presented to an employer. 

For the pilot, 4,200 prospects were identified from the OhioMeansJobs registration database and the unemployment rolls who might qualify for advanced manufacturing openings. The prospects were invited to come down to the OhioMeansJobs office to be entered in the system, screened for barriers, and if barrier-free, invited to continue on a guided path to interviews, soft-skills training and job coaching.

The percentage of clean preliminary drug screens because of the new approach taken improved from 40 percent testing clean to 95 percent testing clean. This fact certainly improves the chances of an “employer-ready” candidate, at least with regards to the drug screening. 

And the most gratifying result was the change in the way employers see OhioMeansJobs. Where 50 companies sought the help of OhioMeansJobs when the pilot started, now more than 350 employers seek out support from OhioMeansJobs. 

Overall, the Link Lima strategy is proving to be a successful workforce strategy by providing the job seekers with the support they need in advance of deeming them employer-ready. This could be a model for the country.