Sector by sector

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Sector by sector

Akron Beacon Journal – One of the frustrations of the current economy involves the skills gap. Employers report that even with unemployment at 9.2 percent nationally, they have difficulty finding qualified applicants for job openings in their companies. Part of the evidence is anecdotal, say, machine shops citing positions going unfilled. Others offer a broader perspective, a group of hospitals in the Cleveland area pointing to 3,000 openings every day in their operations, three-quarters reflecting this dismaying mismatch in skills.

Hard to overstate the importance of closing the gap, especially in a battered region such as Northeast Ohio. Those regions that do a better job matching skills with work promise to make a dent in their unemployment problem and provide local companies with a critical component for growth — a higher quality work force.

Sen. Sherrod Brown had all of this in mind when in 2009 he first proposed the SECTORS Act (Strengthening Employment in Clusters to Organize Regional Success). The legislation won passage in the House. The Ohio Democrat has reintroduced the bill in this congressional session. It has bipartisan support, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine joining Brown as a lead sponsor. If any legislation deserves broad backing and swift action, this is it.

What would the SECTORS Act accomplish? It provides a mechanism for regions to become more effective at linking industries with the work force.

A cluster stems from a set of related companies around a particular realm of the economy, for instance, health care or fuel cells (looking to the future). It is one thing to say let’s take greater advantage of what we have. It’s wholly another to make it happen. Brown proposes that regions compete for planning grants, $250,000 for one year, up to $2.5 million for implementation over three years.

To win a grant, the applying region and industry would have to show collaboration, businesses, universities, community colleges, unions and other relevant entities coming together for a shared purpose, to upgrade the pipeline for routing qualified workers into the jobs that companies have.

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