Bills seek to remove stigma from workforce development centers

Workforce One Butler County provided job assistance to nearly 20,600 last year and could probably have helped thousands more, officials said. But the Fairfield agency’s services, and those of its sister agencies in other counties, are stigmatized as being only for out-of-work, poor or low-skilled Ohioans.

But a pair of proposed bills in the Ohio House, co-sponsored by State Rep. Tim Derickson, and one in the Senate are designed to alter that perception.

House Bills 1 and 2 and Senate Bill 2 will create consistency in the branding of the one-stop agencies by renaming them all “Ohio Means Jobs.” The bill would also require anyone seeking assistance with one of the workforce development centers to register with, the state-run job seeker website.

Adam Jones, Butler County Job and Family Services assistant director and leader of the county’s workforce development office, said these legislative changes could help remove the stigma surrounding these agencies that they are only for the poor and low-skilled.

“That’s incorrect and hurts the mission, the goal of Workforce One from an employers standpoint,” Jones said. “We will serve anyone from those who are low-skilled to those who have college degrees. We want to try to match them with the jobs that are out there.”

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Derickson, R-Hanover Twp., said these taxpayer-funded services are being underutilized and the proposed changed would help the unemployed and underemployed.

“The goal of these bills, ultimately, is to get folks employed. The sooner, the better,” Derickson said. “There’s a little bit of a disconnect from a lot of our people that live here in the community who might be out of work and knowing Workforce One even exists, let alone what kind of services they offer.”

The legislation can also work as another resource for the Ohio Works First program, which provides a time-limited cash assistance program for eligible families, said Jerome Kearns, director of Butler County Job and Family Services. Ohio Works First emphasizes employment, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.

“A lot these folks who participate in Ohio Works First have multiple barriers to employment: substance abuse, mental health issues, caring for elderly, caring for kids who have significant disabilities,” Kearns said. “So, there are a lot of challenges for these folks. But we now have a better resource to be able to connect them to employment. We want them to transition onto their own two feet; we want them to transition off welfare.”

Workforce One had changed the focus for a concerted effort to be a resource for employers, he said.

“With our re-purposing, or refocusing on employers, we are a bigger resource for these folks who want to transition from welfare to work,” Kearns said. “With the efforts that we’re putting in place down here, focusing on employers, I see it as an opportunity to really move some of those folks and get them to the table, if you will, to those employers.”

The effort in workforce development has only been happening for the past few years, Derickson said. Legislators have identified a number of ways to improve workforce development, and the proposed bills in the House and Senate “are just one piece of that puzzle.”

“I really think that workforce development from a government perspective is something that everyone is interested in, but we’ve really never taken a look at it,” he said. “Now that we are, we’re looking for ways to improve.”

The House Bill is likely to be tweaked, Derickson said, with the assistance of Policy Matters Ohio, a nonpartisan policy research group in Columbus.

The online registration is a concern, Derickson said.

“The question is, is it appropriate to force people to try to register with,” he said. “We’re trying to figure that one out right now.”

Another concern is the computer literacy of some folks who need the assistance of the one-stop centers. But Jones said “that’s where we come into play, too.” The agency offers a free computer basics class.

“If these are folks that are going to enter into the workforce, that’s a skill that employers just assume you have,” he said.

But the bottom line on the name change, reaching out to the community comes with helping to be an economic driver, Jones said.

“With that employee connection, that’s when we’re optimally able to serve our job seekers,” he said. “It all comes back to creating opportunity. If we don’t have these relationships with the employers, we can’t help them create opportunity. We can have all the talent in the world, but we need to have a place to put them. And when they come here, we can provide them the trust that we have the talent.”

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