Linking Workers to Job Opportunities in the Greater Cincinnati Area

About This Project

“The collaborative process takes an incredible amount of work and relationship building but is incredibly rewarding when the entire group sees the results of their hard work and courageous conversations. Collaboration is ever-changing as new players arrive, stakeholders leave, new needs arise, etc. It is challenging to stay on top of it all. The key choice to make is to identify a “coalition of the willing” who have similar goals and interests and who can help manage it all. No one organization can manage the collaborative process.”— Janice Urbanik, Executive Director, Partners for a Competitive Workforce

Through the 2000s, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana tri-state area faced a shortage of workers equipped with the skills to match the labor demands of Greater Cincinnati area employers. Unemployment in the region was at 8.6 percent, and 50 percent of the workforce lacked the necessary post-secondary education and training to meet the skills needed by regional employers. This included a mix of hard and soft skills in key industries including advanced manufacturing, information technology, construction, and health care. In response to this challenge, over 150 organizations from the business, community, non-profit, and public sectors united to create the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network, now Partners for A Competitive Workforce (PCW), in 2008. This cross-sector collaboration provides resources to identify employer needs and connect workers to educational programs that help them develop the relevant skills, and facilitate worker readiness – ultimately linking job-seekers with entry-level employment in target industries. Incumbent workers also receive training that allows them to advance in their careers. Under the leadership of Executive Director Janice Urbanik, Partners for a Competitive Workforce is leading the effort to meet the communities’ Bold Goal for Income which is that 90 percent of the labor force has gainful employment by 2020.

Janice brings to Partners for a Competitive Workforce more than three decades of professional experience, with a specific focus on incorporating women and minorities into the workforce. Her experience as a mechanical engineer has brought a unique perspective to impacting the talent supply chain in Cincinnati, as has her commitment to collaboration between the non-profit, private, and public sectors.

Balanced Motivations

Janice cites a passion for organizational development and getting under-represented populations into successful careers – specifically, women and minorities. As a mechanical engineer at Procter and Gamble for 18 years, a field she cites as “traditionally male-dominated,” Janice understood first-hand the challenges non-traditional groups face in professional advancement. Her experience witnessing group marginalization informs her executive leadership of Partners for a Competitive Workforce, which often works with low-income and marginalized participants to help them develop what it takes to succeed professionally. Capitalizing on her private sector success, she uses her leadership position at Partners for a Competitive Workforce to advance the professional development of underrepresented groups in the construction, manufacturing, healthcare, and IT industries.

Transferable Skills

Janice’s ability to think systemically about the many factors and interests at play in Partners for a Competitive Workforce comes from her education as an engineer. She is able to think strategically about processes that come into play related to workforce readiness and identify salient connections and interactions, from identifying the unique needs of each employer to linking workers to the services and programs that provide them with training to fit employer needs. In addition to her understanding of process, Janice highlights her developed capacity for data evaluation which she cites as helpful in identifying what systems are the most effective in preparing people for work and careers.

Intellectual Thread

Janice has worked with Partners for a Competitive Workforce for five years. She began with the construction and manufacturing team, a natural position given her advanced knowledge of mechanical engineering and systems operations. This helps her relate to participants from technical industries, thanks to an in-depth understanding of the skills and capacities needed in the construction and manufacturing industries. Her background as an engineer also gives her agility with data, and fosters an ability to use insight from labor statistics to achieve targeted success strengthening employment in the Greater Cincinnati region.

Contextual Intelligence

Having worked for 18 years for Procter and Gamble, Janice gained insight into the efficiency and management tactics of a multinational corporation. Janice’s professional experience also included work in the non-profit sector which gave her a first-hand look at the needs and operational concerns of non-profits and the participants whom they serve. Having the combined experience from multiple sectors informed her understanding of sector-specific concerns, and fostered her ability to address these concerns through effective communication with each participating sector.

Share a vision of success

The complexity of the filling skills gap in the region highlighted the limited effectiveness of single organizations’ efforts to address this issue, and let partners know early on that they would need to move past individual goals in order to develop a collective impact approach to effectively address regional workforce demands in the region. PCW started as the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network, which includes representatives from community organizations, businesses, and municipal leaders throughout the region who had formed action networks to address the growing skills gap. Continuous meetings among partners allowed them time to discuss and distill a common agenda, which became the mission statement for Partners for a Competitive Workforce: “Employers have the talent that they need to compete, and people have the skills they need to get good jobs and advance their careers.” This vision has been a driver behind the development of PCW, and continues to guide collaborative success.

Recruit a powerful sponsor or champion

One key supporter of the PCW initiative was Kathy Merchant, President of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Her credibility in the community allowed her to convene the key resources needed to get GCWN/PCW started. She was an early funder of the partnership and instrumental in bringing other regional leaders to the table, designing the organization, and creating a common agenda. Her participation and steadfast support shored up additional funding for the partnership, infusing the collaboration with the trust and legitimacy needed to get off the ground in the early days of the initiative.

Establish a governance structure

Stakeholders and top-level executives from participating organizations established the Partners Council, a 40-member, employer-led group responsible for the strategic development of PCW and reviewing outcomes through quarterly progress reports. Membership on the Partners Council is representative, consisting of employers and the leaders of issue-specific workgroups, and it delegates implementation to three working groups. Operational decisions are made at the workgroup level, incorporating recommendations from the Partners Council. Each of the three work groups reflects PCW core activities: The Employers First Regional Workforce Network supplies businesses with talent, Career Pathways Partnership Teams focus on developing career pathways for specific industries, and the Work Readiness Collaborative aligns worker training with basic work readiness skills that match employer demand.

Agree on measures of success

A fundamental step in creating career pathways is deciding how to measure progress and track outcomes. First used by the Southwest Ohio Region Workforce Investment Board, PCW partners contribute to a shared database analyzing more than 100,000 records of clients. This data, entered primarily by service-providers working in direct contact with job seekers, provides key information for each area in which PCW operates and is used to inform program action and development. This information provides insight into training completion rates of program participants, program efficacy vs. outcomes and barriers encountered by participants, as well as employment trends in the region. It is used by over 50 partner organizations. Additionally, in 2012, PCW participated in a report, “2020 Jobs Outlook,” in partnership with Vision 2015, the Strive Partnership, and Agenda 360, which used statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to forecast trends in regional employment. This gave partners a chance to analyze employment trends in the region, as well as identify additional sectors in which to implement career pathways.

The Partners for a Competitive Workforce model is an approach increasingly used across the country to address the skills gap, in addition to the Ohio- Kentucky-Indiana tri-state area. Since PCW’s inception in 2008, PCW’s partners have helped 80 percent of participants attain employment, thereby helping a large part of the population move towards financial self-sufficiency. More than 150 partners have come together from the public, private, and non-profit sectors to provide solutions that bridge the skills gap between employer demand and worker preparedness, leveraging more than $40 million in financial support. Since 2008, PCW’s partners have served more than 7,800 individuals. Of those served (job seekers and incumbent workers), 87 percent have completed training, earning over 8,300 credentials, including but not limited to professional certificates. 80 percent have obtained employment, with a 73 percent rate of retention. Continuing achievements include:

  • Use of innovative approaches like design thinking and two-generation strategies to take the work to scale.
  • Reviewing labor market data to identify potential new sectors such as finance/insurance and transportation/distribution/logistics.
  • Continuing to evaluate the business value/ROI of this work to show model effectiveness
  • to employers.

Community Revitalization
Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio