Increasing Ohio workers’ educational attainment is critical for COVID-…

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CLEVELAND — A lot can happen in just a few months. It’s hard to believe that, in early March, Ohio’s job market was at full employment and businesses were hard-pressed to find the skilled workers they needed. Then came COVID-19, and within weeks, nearly a million Ohioans found themselves out of work and businesses across the state were struggling to survive America’s first major recession in a dozen years.

The impact of the virus is being felt across the state and will undoubtedly affect Ohio workers, their families and Ohio businesses for a long time after the pandemic subsides. Perhaps most affected are young Ohioans just entering the job market and older workers who had their sights on a higher-paid career.

Coming out of recessions, highly skilled workers historically fare better than those who have only a high school education and lack the additional college degree or professional certification to qualify for well-paying jobs that are most in demand. For this reason, the economic well-being of Ohioans, our communities and our state depends in part on how well we come together to continuously learn new skills and become the well-educated workforce it takes to compete in the global marketplace.

Joe Roman is the president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership

Joseph D. Roman is the president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership and chairman of the board of Ohio Excels.

In short, the more intellectual capital that Ohio has, the better we will all do in times of economic crisis.

While we have made steady progress in positioning more and more Ohioans to earn some type of high-quality credential beyond high school, our progress has lagged other states’, and the results of our efforts have fallen far short of what’s needed to compete in today’s technology-driven economy. The most recent statistics show that 49.2% of Ohioans have a certificate or degree beyond high school – two points lower than the national average and 31st in the nation. Those rankings shouldn’t be good enough for Ohioans in strong economic times but are even more concerning for us now when we all hope to recover from this latest recession as soon as possible.

Economists say reaching an attainment rate of at least 65% is critical to keeping Ohio competitive in the future.

To help Ohioans make more progress, a public-private coalition of more than 40 employers, educators, state agency leaders, trade association, philanthropic and community leaders have formed a coalition – Complete to Compete Ohio – to develop an action plan for helping to increase the number of Ohioans earning a degree, certificate or industry-recognized credential.

Ohio Excels is proud to have been an active partner in Complete to Compete Ohio and to have had a hand in producing “Bridging Ohio’s Workforce Gap,” the coalition’s recommendations for proven strategies that can help Ohioans upskill at this critical time and rebuild the state’s workforce.

This comprehensive plan includes initiatives to make higher education more accessible and affordable by increasing the number of students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and receiving student aid. The plan also advocates for additional advising and other supports for students when they arrive on campus. One example cited by the plan is the Community College Acceleration Program, which to date has nearly doubled graduation rates for students at Cuyahoga Community College and Lorain County Community College. To improve the skills of Ohioans already in the workforce, the plan advocates for the expansion of TechCred, a new state grant program that provides current workers with a fast track to new technology credentials.

Margie Wright-McGowan

Margie Wright-McGowan is senior vice president of human resources, diversity and inclusion at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and a member of the board for Ohio Excels.

The plan’s proposals are many and detailed, but connecting them all are two important truths: Employers and educators have an obligation to work together for the good of Ohioans and their communities; and more needs to be done to help Ohioans learn about the benefits of advanced training and the pathways to achieving it.

Ohio Excels, along with our Complete to Compete Ohio partners, is committed to supporting collaborative efforts that improve opportunities for Ohioans and their families and the economic vitality of our region and state. Together, we can overcome the uncertainty and adversity we now face and help all Ohioans find successful paths forward for themselves and their families.

Joseph D. Roman is president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership and chairman of the board for Ohio Excels. Margie Wright-McGowan is senior vice president of human resources, diversity and inclusion at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and a member of the board for Ohio Excels.

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