Rising demand for a skilled workforce a problem in Ohio

Less than one-third of Ohio workers have a bachelor’s degree, a problem that state and local leaders are racing to fix as the demand for skilled workers increases.

More well-paying, skilled services jobs in the U.S. are going to people with a four-year degree, a new study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows.

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Around 67 percent of Ohio workers lack a bachelor’s degree, 6 points higher than the national average of 61 percent, according to the report. Skilled positions in fields like health care and information technology tend to require more training, putting Ohio’s workforce at a disadvantage.

The median earnings for an Ohio worker with a bachelor’s degree is $55,000. Those with bachelor’s degree and a “good job” is $70,000, according to the study.

“It’s important because I think the jobs of the future are going to depend on continually re-skilling and up-skilling (workers),” said Ryan Burgess, director of the governor’s office for workforce transformation. “When you’re competing in a global economy you have to have a top notch workforce.”

State leaders have long feared that Ohio needed to improve its workforce development.

The office Burgess leads, created by Gov. John Kasich in 2012, was established as a way to try to improve and expand systems in place to train workers. The office’s goal is to have 65 percent of adult Ohioans obtain a degree, certificate or another form of post-secondary training by 2025.

Ohio’s slower-than-average move toward an educated workforce is mostly due to its roots in agriculture and manufacturing, said Jeff Robinson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

“There were folks who were able to get into good jobs without much education,” Robinson said. “Now that things are shifting a bit, we’re seeing Ohio lagging.”

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Another part of the issue is just “a matter of reaching out to students and their families, to make them aware of what education opportunities are available, Robinson said. College Credit Plus, a state program that allows high school students to take classes for college credit, is just one example of something that people may not know about, Robinson said.

Though the state is lagging behind the national average, state leaders said they have made inroads over the last five years. The governor’s office of workforce transformation regularly surveys business for their employment needs and an apprenticeship program has trained more than 19,000 people, making it the second largest program of its kind in the country.

The workforce demands have also been a reason for some expanded affordability and accessibility initiatives at area colleges.

The University of Dayton, Wright State University, Miami University and Ohio State, among others, have drastically strengthened transfer agreements and implemented fixed price tuition programs. Several two-year schools have expanded the number of certificates they offer and Sinclair Community College, along with Clark State Community College, are both on track to offer bachelor’s degrees created to specifically address local workforce needs.

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Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley recently proposed a solution to help people in need of a degree or certificate who can’t afford one. Whaley, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor of Ohio, wants to offer free community college if she’s elected to the top state post.

Whaley’s program would require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as FAFSA. Students who receive FAFSA dollars often need less than $1,000 to fill the gap of what they need to enroll, according to Whaley’s campaign.

“That shouldn’t come out of hardworking Ohioans’ pockets,” Whaley said. “We should invest in them.”

By the numbers

67: Percent of Ohio workers without a bachelor's degree.

61: Percent of U.S. workers without a four-year degree.

55: Percent of good jobs in the U.S. are held by people with at least a bachelor's degree.

$31,000: Median earnings of workers without a four-year degree.

$55,000: Median earnings of workers with a four-year degree.

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