Domino's Hiring Sign

A sign outside the Domino's in Mount Vernon reads "$100 hiring bonus."

MOUNT VERNON -- OhioMeansJobs Knox County is in the process of entering a contract to conduct a community employment needs assessment for the county, which is slated to be completed by March 2022. 

Employers in Knox County, and areas across the country, have had difficulty finding workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As previously reported by Knox Pages, the workforce has reassessed work. People have voluntarily quit their jobs, and not all people who lost jobs are seeking new ones — or they are seeking jobs in different fields with better pay and benefits. There have also been recent spikes in retirements and increased turnover. 

There is no clear nor single explanation for the difficulty that some employers are having in hiring, according to Knox-area employers, job seekers, leaders and many economists. 

OhioMeansJobs Knox County is seeking to further study and identify these explanations to create a targeted plan to address them.

OhioMeansJobs Knox County is in the process of signing a contract with Thomas P. Miller and Associates, a business management consultant firm that has previously conducted assessments in nearby Licking County, as well as elsewhere in the state and country.

Greater Ohio Workforce Board has agreed to fund the assessment, said Brandy Booth, administrator at Opportunity Knox Employment Center. Booth declined to provide dollar figures at this time, as the contract is still being finalized.

The survey will serve a purpose similar to that of the county’s health assessments and subsequent health improvement plans, Booth said.

Overall, the impetus for the survey is to gain a measurable understanding of needs specific to Knox County. 

“When you look at census data, that doesn’t come along often enough and it’s not detailed enough,” Booth said. “And then when you’re looking at your regular labor market information, we’re lumped in with Columbus because they’re the metro area. But that’s not an accurate picture of what it looks like for our county.”

County job and unemployment data is sparse.

As previously reported by Knox Pages, Ohio Labor Market Information does not seasonally adjust unemployment rates for counties or cities, and while there is a national program for looking at job openings, the number of job openings at the local level are not tracked. 

While rough estimates of openings can be done through online job postings, such estimates overestimate some jobs and underestimate others.

It is also unclear how many jobs have been added in Knox County since last year because LMI relies on wage records, which come out quarterly, for that data. There is a lag of approximately six months after the end of a quarter before that data is available.

The assessment

The employment needs assessment in Knox County will be conducted through six steps over the next several months, senior director of Thomas P. Miller & Associates Vicki Maple said.

The first step, which is slated to be completed in September, is the project launch and relevant material review. During this step, a steering committee composed of leaders from industries across the county  — education, manufacturing, healthcare, area development, etc. — will be created to help direct TPMA in its assessment, Maple said.

The second step is a literature review, which involves gathering all of the data and documentation of regional development that has already been completed. By understanding what is already out there, the TPMA can build upon and not duplicate findings through its assessment, Maple said. 

The literature is also slated to occur in September. Some examples of documentation TPMA will look to gather include reports from public, private and non-traditional sources, such as Emsi Burning Glass and Esri, Maple said.

Maple referred to the third step, which will occur October through November, as a “data dive.” During this step, TPMA will conduct a labor market data analysis to identify workforce and labor market trends across Knox County. 

Specifically, TPMA will conduct a workforce development analysis looking at population demographics, income and poverty levels, educational attainment, labor force statistics, top hiring companies in the area, and commuting patterns (the types of jobs and industries people are moving into versus out of the county for).

Other key analyses TMPA will conduct involve evaluating skills gaps as well as occupations, wages and benefits. 

The fourth step, stakeholder engagement, is when direct interactions with the community will occur. 

“That’s when we validate that data by understanding from a people perspective what it all means,” Maple said.

TPMA will conduct in-person input sessions from December 2021 through February 2022 with three separate groups: job seekers, employers and education, training and workforce development organizations (anyone who offers training or development). 

For example, some questions will include:

For job seekers — What do you consider the greatest barrier to finding quality, living-wage work?

For employers — What are the biggest opportunities for business growth in the area right now?

For training and development organizations — How do you conduct outreach/referral services to workers, students, or employers in need of education/workforce development services?

In February 2022, TPMA will conduct best practice research around intervention models, strategies for overcoming barriers and strategies for fostering an equitable and inclusive workforce ecosystem, Maple said.

The final report is slated to be delivered in March, Maple said.

The report will include information gathered from the aforementioned steps: a summary of the data collection process; comprehensive analyses (in narrative and visual formats); identification of ecosystem alignment including redundancy, concurrent programming and opportunities for collaboration; workforce development best practices; and actionable recommendations for workforce development.

Booth said OhioMeansJobs Knox County, Opportunity Knox and Knox County’s Workforce Development alliance worked together to outline needs and develop the proposal to contract a firm. The groups’ goals are all interconnected. 

“The whole idea is keeping Knox county workers in Knox County, and attracting other workers to Knox County,” Booth said regarding goals. 

In order to build-up a robust and sustainable workforce, the Knox County workforce groups need to understand the county’s current situation, Booth said.

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.