The city of Gahanna, the Gahanna-Jefferson Public School District and the Gahanna Area Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to reach goals in workforce development.

The city began a process to develop a community-driven strategic plan that would be focused on achieving measurable results for the community in January 2016. A key component of that plan, labeled Go Forward Gahanna, was business and job development. It stated a goal of developing 2,750 well-paying jobs through businesses locating in southeast and southwest Gahanna by 2021. The intent would be to target the finance and insurance, education and health, professional and business services and manufacturing sectors. But for the community, it's also a matter of seeing existing businesses thrive.

Anthony Jones, the city's development director, said each of the three groups has its own initiatives, but the city is coordinating efforts to ensure the most impact can be made to help Gahanna businesses and residents with jobs.

The city also has worked with Columbus 2020 to help some companies having specific workforce issues.

"They have a workforce expert that provides guidance and expertise in helping companies in the region attract new, talented employees," Jones said.

Columbus 2020 serves as an economic development organization for the 11-county Columbus region, working with state and local partners to generate opportunities and build capacity for economic growth. Its services include market research, including demographic information, workforce analysis and customized data, at no cost.

As part of a third component, Jones said Gahanna has hosted a speaker series called CEO Roundtable.

"These events have brought in experts that have provided best practices on how companies can change their culture to attract and retain top talent," he said. "These meetings have been very well attended, and I believe they have had some positive change for Gahanna employers."

Finally, the city and Gahanna-Jefferson Superintendent Steve Barrett are continuing to meet with businesses on a regular basis as part of Mayor Tom Kneeland's Business Visitation Program.

Jones said this collaborative effort has led to several good discussions about workforce issues facing Gahanna businesses. One issue is that some need skilled-trade employees and college is not always the path for obtaining those skills.

"It also has shown how the city and the schools are working together to help companies tap into any and all resources that they have available," he said.

Business perspectives

One of the business visits was with Doug Galiardi, president of Gahanna's Electric Solutions Inc., to discuss how the city, the business and district could work together to give high school students a better understanding of what electrical trades have to offer.

Galiardi said there is a skilled-labor shortage that is widespread and global.

"There are many reasons that have contributed to the problem, but primarily it's due to electricians retiring early (at 60-62 years of age) and the physical demands of the trade," he said. "The Great Recession was also a major contributor to the problem.

"Furthermore, our governments, educators and parents have been preaching that everyone needs to go to college," Galiardi said. "We are definitely feeling the effects of that now."

He said many of the electrical construction associations and apprenticeship programs across the United States agree that 15,000 new electricians are needed every year just to fill the jobs being vacated due to retirement and advancement.

"Workforce development (apprenticeship) is not keeping up with the demand for skilled electricians," Galiardi said. "Even with the initiative to recruit apprentices early in middle school and high school, we are still not getting the numbers we need to enroll and to retain them throughout the four-year program."

He said the average graduation rate is only about 85 percent.

Many entities in the skilled trades are focusing their recruitment efforts on women and minorities, and contractors are finding creative ways to keep journeymen electricians on the payroll, even if it's reduced hours or part-time, according to Galiardi.

"The construction industry as a whole has been changing policies for family leave, PTO (paid-time off), sick days and flexible schedules to try and adapt to the needs of our employees," he said.

Galiardi said he believes the public lacks an understanding of the electrical industry, career opportunities and electrician wages.

"Although the apprenticeship is a four-year program and all of the classes are held at night, it allows the apprentice to work full-time while earning their journeyman's certificate, and most contractors pay 100 percent of the apprentice's tuition," he said.

"Furthermore, many of the apprenticeship programs partner with community colleges, so the apprentice is getting college credit for the apprenticeship curriculum," he said.

The average electrical apprentice will earn about $140,000 during the four-year program, working with a member contractor and graduating as a journeyman electrician with no college debt, Galiardi said.

He said wages for journeymen vary, depending on the contractor's type of work.

"I can assure you that currently, there is wage inflation for skilled-journeymen electricians," Galiardi said.

He said the relationship with the city and schools is just getting started, and he applauds the initiative.

"This is a win-win for students, parents, GJPS and Gahanna businesses," Galiardi said.

School partnerships

Jessica Slocum, an academic officer at Gahanna Lincoln High School, said the school district is working to establish and strengthen business partnerships in order to develop opportunities in career exploration and to connect students to opportunities.

"We are working collaboratively with businesses to increase awareness of opportunities and the importance of career exploration," she said. "The experiences we are looking to develop for students include site visits, job shadowing, internships, mentorships, career speakers and a Business Advisory Council."

Additionally, Slocum said, in the next school year, students will be able to take advantage of a newly designed career launchpad program.

"This course is designed to provide students with internship-mentorship opportunities, based on their individual interests, during the school day," she said.

Several Lincoln High School students currently are going through the interview process for an Abercrombie & Fitch internship opportunity.

"The A&F Junior Achievement Supply Chain Internship program provides our students with an introduction to the supply chain field at Abercrombie & Fitch," Slocum said. "The program offers students an opportunity to learn more about the careers available within the industry as they prepare to enter the workforce and/or post-secondary education."

About 7 percent of Gahanna Lincoln students currently attend the Eastland Career Center where they receive training toward various career paths, she said.

Chamber connections

The city, schools and chamber also are collaborating on focus groups with local businesses to better understand specific workforce issues, Jones said.

"The goal is to use this data to drive any policies or programs that may result from this effort," he said. "We want to add value to companies and help residents get jobs. We feel that understanding the specific workforce problems through this focus group is a great way to do that."

Mary Held said she and Betty Collins are the chamber's representatives to the city's workforce development initiative.

She said they're working to identify specific challenges facing Gahanna businesses, and to determine ways in which the city, chamber and/or schools can partner with them, provide workforce development resources and other services they need.

As a starting point, Held said, she's working with Emanuel Torres in the city's department of planning and development to plan and facilitate a meeting on March 6 with human resources/recruiting professionals in Gahanna businesses.

Additionally, a job fair is being planned in April, in conjunction with the city and schools, to focus on summer and seasonal hiring needs of area businesses.

The chamber recently distributed a survey to identify organizations that hire summer or seasonal help and would be interested in participating.

"We'll be focusing on connecting these organizations with high school students looking for summer jobs," Held said.

Jones said city representatives also have met with several workforce agencies, including vocational schools, trade unions, the Central Ohio Workforce Development Board and other groups that provide training or assistance to help employees be prepared for available jobs in Gahanna.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla

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