Lancaster – U.S. Senator Rob Portman believes training Ohio's workforce for the jobs that are available is crucial and he's glad to see that Ohio University Lancaster is working with economic development leaders in Fairfield County to make sure the needs are met. Portman visited the Lancaster Campus as part of the Lancaster-Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Update 2013 luncheon Wednesday.
"That is our number one priority here in Ohio," said Portman. "We have employers who are seeing an uptick in the number of jobs they have available, but they can't find the workers with the skills to do them."
Portman took a tour of campus before speaking at the luncheon. The tour was led by Lancaster Campus Dean Dr. Jim Smith. Smith showed Portman the campus library, as well as business and industry training facilities and introduced Portman to the head of the Procurement Technical Assistance Center who recently opened an office on the Lancaster Campus.
After the tour, Dean Smith spoke to the crowd about how Ohio University Lancaster is responding to the community's workforce needs.
Smith said the Lancaster Campus is always looking at the degree programs offered to make sure students are being prepared for jobs that will allow the students and the community to excel.
"We pay special attention to the broad industry areas defined by economic development specialists for our county," said Smith. "It makes sense for us to align to the projected needs for our area in advanced manufacturing, biomedical technology, food processing, and logistics." In particular the campus has made changes to align to the first two of these areas.
"Starting this year we have moved an existing program from a technology program in industrial maintenance to an engineering technology program in electromechanical technology. This program is designed to be a two plus two program which allows students to transition to the Athens campus for a bachelor's degree in engineering technology," said Smith. "The Ohio University regional campuses have been working with the Athens' biology department in planning to offer a bachelor's degree in biology on the regional campuses. This year we hired an additional PhD biologist and are currently working with an architect to design a new biology lab." The Dean also noted alignment of the campus' programs to labor market data that indicates job openings for computer support specialists and nurses (offered collaboratively with Mount Carmel College of Nursing).
Senator Portman said he was impressed with the work Ohio University Lancaster is doing to support economic development in the region. He congratulated the campus on its higher than average retention rate and stressed that degree completion is important for a student's future and from an economic standpoint.
"If you look at those with just a high school diploma, unemployment is at about eight-point-five percent," said Portman reflecting on Dean Smith's remarks. "But if you look at unemployment numbers for those with a certificate or degree, that number drops to about four percent."
About 100 Fairfield County business leaders attended the event, along with about 15 Ohio University Lancaster students.