Open access: Talent attraction remains top-of-mind for Cleveland manufacturers

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New manufacturing jobs are coming to Ohio—a high-tech portfolio that encompasses investments in semiconductors, electric vehicles, and other growth industries.

For instance, the new Intel chip plant outside of Columbus is expected to employ 3,000 workers in lucrative engineering, technician, and administrative roles, part of a state manufacturing jobs deluge forecasted to eclipse 30,000 in the next decade.

The question of how Ohio can attract and keep new manufacturing talent continues to remain in play.

At the forefront of tackling this question is Cleveland’s Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), which unveiled its “Make it Better” regional manufacturing blueprint in 2021. The blueprint reimagines Northeast Ohio as a hub producing the next generation of cutting-edge talent, technology, and industry leadership.

Drawing skilled employees into advanced manufacturing requires an industry-specific knowledge base, says Aram Nerpouni, MAGNET’s managing director of talent. MAGNET’s new headquarters in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood is one would-be change agent, as it connects people to training while providing area factories with advanced technologies.

MAGNET’s 53,000-square-foot facility, purchased in 2020 from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), is a hub of Industry 4.0 technologies much different from the “dark, dirty, and dangerous industry” of past decades, Nerpouni says.

Modern manufacturing workers enjoy a clean environment while working with everything from robots to blockchain to artificial intelligence. An industry that once suffered mass layoffs is now desperately seeking talent—a gap set to grow further due to a looming wave of retirements.

“Lots of folks are leaving the labor force, so companies are losing that experienced hand,” says Nerpouni. “There are few manufacturers that will say they’ve got this figured out.”

Talan Industries roboticsTalan Industries roboticsA sense of pride

Pivoting from a labor shortage to an employee influx means building on-ramps for communities traditionally underrepresented in the tech-centric workforce—women, people of color, and those re-entering society from the criminal justice system.

There are thousands of people working in retail, fast food, and hospitality who within weeks could be in lucrative manufacturing jobs, says Nerpouni.

Mary Lamar is perhaps emblematic of manufacturing’s future promise in Northeast Ohio. Lamar spent years searching for the right employment fit as a nursing assistant and later as a shipyard welder. In 2019, Lamar pled guilty to robbery and served time in prison.

Today, the Cleveland resident is a quality control inspector at Talan Products, a stamping company that produces metal washers, shelving, and brackets. Lamar’s day-to-day work includes using tools and company guidelines to check parts for tolerance—part of a promotion she recently received after starting with Talan two years ago as a stamping press operator.

“I’ve built a good relationship with the company and enjoy the fact they trust my instincts and skill,” says Lamar. “To hold this position is exciting for me. It gives me a sense of pride in my work.”

Connecting with new workers

Lamar got her job through ACCESS to Manufacturing Careers, a collaboration between MAGNET, Precision Metalforming Association, and the Towards Employment workforce placement organization.

MAGNET's MissionMAGNET's MissionManufacturers in Rust Belt cities, including Cleveland, are dealing with a labor force breach projected to reach two million by 2030, according to figures from the National Association of Manufacturers. Due to ongoing retirement trends, the Cleveland area has an estimated 10,000 manufacturing job openings, according to MAGNET. 

With an industry workforce that currently is 74% male and 83% white, connecting with new talent pools is a practical solution, MAGNET officials say.

Through the ACCESS program, Lamar, who is Black, learned interviewing and resume skills that allowed her to candidly answer tough questions about her previous prison time.

“The program helped me fill in the blanks and put my skill set on paper,” she says. “It’s important because a lot of people out there, especially the formerly incarcerated, seem to give up or they don’t know where to go to turn their lives around. [This program] showed me there is a place to go, and that I could be successful after my return to society.”

Meanwhile, MAGNET continues to spread manufacturing awareness at its new headquarters, notes Nerpouni, who serves as the consulting group’s talent director. A partnership with CMSD, for example, will demonstrate innovation and smart manufacturing to 3,000 K-12 students annually. The goal is to, ideally, become a jobs pipeline for small-to-medium-sized producers throughout the area.

Attracting students who know nothing about the manufacturing industry—along with populations historically underserved in the manufacturing ranks—can mitigate a jobs gap that shows no signs of narrowing, says Nerpouni.

“The industry is very different from your father’s manufacturing—there really are a diverse set of pathways,” he says. “People can work with their hands, or program a CNC machine, or maintain a collaborative robot. There are great opportunities to create a much better understanding of what manufacturing looks like in the region.”

This is part four in a five-part series on MAGNET’s “Make It Better: A Blueprint for Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio—a vision for the future of manufacturing in Northeast Ohio as a leader in high-tech smart manufacturing—and the four pillars to the blueprint: Innovation, Transformation, Talent, and Leadership.

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: Douglas J. Guth

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Crain’s Cleveland Business, Ideastream, and Middle Market Growth. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.