Highland County economic development leaders to host Manufacturers Summit; commissioners updated on ACCESS program

Highland County commissioners Terry Britton, David Daniels and Brad Roades met with Highland County ACCESS Director Tim Dettwiller and Highland County Economic Development Director Julie Bolender, who shared the latest data on the ACCESS program and announced an upcoming industry summit, during their Wednesday, Oct. 11 meeting.

As announced by Bolender and Dettwiller, Highland County will host its inaugural Manufacturers Summit on Nov. 2 from 10 a.m.-noon at Southern State Community College’s Central Campus in Hillsboro.

“This is our first of what I hope are very regular manufacturing summits — a roundtable of sorts, but but with a whole lot more,” Bolender said.

The free summit is open to all manufacturing leaders in the county, with representatives from the Highland County Economic Development Department, Highland County ACCESS (Alignment of Community Connections for Employer and Student Success), Highland County Chamber of Commerce, BESTOhio and Southern State Community College also present.

Bolender said, “Highland County welcomes BESTOhio to the table as we discuss their Ohio Manufacturers’ Association-endorsed sector partnerships, the new Manufacturers Internship Stipend Program and how the ACCESS and SSCC workforce initiatives can support your business and aid in its growth.”

According to its website (https://ssuinnovation.com/bestohio), “The BESTOhio (Business & Education Success Team) of south central Ohio is a new voice for our region’s manufacturers. This industry-led sector partnership is building a better workforce through the common ground synergy of industry, education, economic development, human services organizations and community-based organization leadership. BESTOhio is endorsed by The Ohio Manufacturers’  Association and covers Scioto, Ross, Pike, Adams, Jackson and Highland counties.”

The summit will also serve as a “great opportunity to network with other likeminded manufacturing leaders,” Bolender’s presentation said.

“We’re going to talk about removing hurdles to employment,” Bolender told commissioners. “We’re going to talk about paid student internships and industry sector partnerships, lot of things that are coming down from the Office of Workforce Transformation in the lieutenant governor’s office.

“One of the things that we’re really excited about at this event is we hope that we will find out that day if we have received a grant from BESTOhio to pay for student internships.”

Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP to Bolender at (937) 661-3010 or [email protected].

“I’m personally reaching out to all of the leaders at our county’s manufacturing facilities, to give them a personal invitation to come,” Bolender said. “This is going to be a great opportunity for them to talk about not only workforce issues, but any other barriers that they’re having, or any issues that they may need, that they’re willing to talk about with a group of their peers in a roundtable format.”

Dettwiller added that the event will also include “a panel of high school students” to speak with the industry leaders.

“We’ll have set questions that we’re going to ask them,” he said. “What we want to do is ask them questions about what do you know about manufacturing? What do you know about manufacturing in Highland County? Can you name any factory companies and what they do?

“[This is] just so the manufacturers can hear, is their marketing working? Because this is your next workforce, and if they don’t have any idea that you’re here and what you’re doing, then you need to change what you’re doing in that regard.”

Dettwiller also gave commissioners an update on Highland County ACCESS and how the program has continued to make strides in the past year.

According to a presentation by Dettwiller to commissioners last year, the goal of the Highland County ACCESS for “schools, businesses and community agencies in Highland County” to have open communication and to promote incentivized learning; students graduating with work exposure and experience leading them to informed career choices upon graduation; businesses making connections with potential future employees; and community partners providing clarity, leading to better utilization of their resources by schools and businesses.

Part of Dettwiller’s presentation to commissioners in October 2022 was a request for $20,000 to put toward a software platform that can involve all three entities — schools, community agencies and businesses — to pool their resources and track necessary data. Since that presentation and the commission’s subsequent approval of the purchase of Transeo software, Dettwiller said they have begun implementing the software.

Transeo is now PATHWAYos, Dettwiller said, as of their July 2023 rebrand.

“We were right in the heart of training our school personnel, and they redesigned and transitioned to a new name,” he said. “That caused some confusion, but we’ve been able to get past that now. That’s why I kept saying this needs to be called the ACCESS portal, because that’s our name, and it won’t change.”

The most encouraging information on the portal’s impact was a slide in Dettwiller’s presentation that compared student workforce participation levels from last school year to this year. Through May 2023, there were 156 students participating in the ACCESS program, as they logged a combined 24,691 hours with 123 experiences (jobs or internships) and 158 activities (job opportunities) offered.  

Counting summer work experiences, the participation rates for June through early October include 256 participating students with 21,387 completed hours, with 67 experiences offered thus far, according to Dettwiller.

“We are increasing dramatically the number of kids in the system,” he said. “One of the things that bumps that up for us is the fact that the schools are starting to put their ag students — the FFA program, where they’re required to get so many hours — they’re putting it in here as well, because it’s easy to track. That’s what we thought would happen, and that’s what we want to have happen, because then we as a whole for the county get to see the total number of hours that students are putting in in some type of work environment. Whether you’re working on your uncle’s farm, or you’re working at Weastec, those hours are getting put in the system now.

“Our goal was around 40 to 50,000 hours, and I think we’re going to be on pace to do that.”

Regarding the lower number of experiences compared to last year, Dettwiller said there are “new experiences coming into the system all the time,” including “lots of internships that we’re trying to get filled” currently listed.

According to Dettwiller’s presentation, Highland County schools are using the ACCESS portal at “varying levels” to track student work hours. As he said, the larger districts (Hillsboro and Greenfield) are “using the portal the most,” and the smaller districts (Bright Local and Lynchburg-Clay) are using it less due to having a smaller staff.

Since Fairfield Local was the first district to implement the program, “they’ve progressed quite a bit, and they’ve got quite a bit going on,” Dettwiller said.

Other reasons why the portal is still being underutilized is because schools are “still using phone calls and paper applications” and other “old methods” such as badge and credential training.

“You’ve got some high performers,” Dettwiller said. “I’ll use Mark Bihl as an example, in Greenfield. He uses the heck out of this portal, and he’s doing a good job with it. Then you have some folks that are just so swamped, and it’s just one person, they can’t quite move into those areas yet. We’re doing some things with some other organizations to try to get them some help.”

The Work Based Learning (WBL) students are able to log their work hours themselves, and they also use the portal to “view available work experiences posted on the jobs board,” Dettwiller said.

An area where they are starting to see some traction, but want to expand, is for students not in the WBL program to use the jobs board to find work.

“Last week, we had our first student, who’s a non-work based learning student from Hillsboro High School,” Dettwiller said. “He wanted a job, so he just went into the portal on his own and submitted an application.

“That’s an exciting thing for me, personally, because we’re moving on from the staff just working with the kids they’re assigned that are either in credit recovery, or want to graduate early, those type of things, to all the other students.”

However, tracking those non-WBL students who use the system is one of the challenges of the portal listed by Dettwiller.

Another challenge they are hoping to address is providing stipends for students so they can accept non-paid internships.

“Internships are available to students, and they’re not taking them,” Dettwiller said. “What we’re finding and hearing from all the career counselors in the schools, the students are looking at them and they move right past them because it’s not paid. There are expenses whenever you do an internship — you have a certain dress you have to have, you have to have transportation, all those things — so we are looking for stipends.”

Dettwiller said that Highland County ACCESS has been awarded $10,000 through the Gen Z Challenge and are “working toward being” a national finalist in that competition to be eligible for $150,000. They have also applied for funding from the Highland County Community Fund and BestOhio.

“There are a lot of kids out there that would like to do these internships, and it’s the goal of the ACCESS program to make sure everybody gets an internship,” Bolender said. “But the fact remains, they need a little gas in their tank, and they might need appropriate clothes. So the stipends that Tim has applied for through our BESTOhio grant, we hope to hear by [the date of the summit] if we’ve received those.”

Daniels asked if the county had “the ability to post” internship opportunities on the ACCESS portal and also asked what is “an appropriate” amount for the stipends.

“The guidelines that were set up by the schools for their work-based learning and internship programs calls for 45 hours for an internship for the student to get some credit,” Dettwiller said. “Anywhere from $550 to $600 is what I’ve been asking for these grants. The other piece I’ve been asking for is for a piece of that to be upfront, so the student can buy their gas in advance, and they can get proper clothing and attire for the internship.

“There is no set dollar amount, but it comes down to an amount that pays for the students’ basic cost and gives them a little bit.”

Another challenge they are seeing is underuse of the portal from the business partners, who are “not posting work experiences in the portal at the rate we would like to see” thus far, according to Dettwiller.

“The Highland County Workforce Leadership Council’s Work Experience subcommittee is meeting monthly to address those challenges,” Dettwiller said. “I have at least one, if not three, personnel from each school coming once a month, and we meet down at Hopewell. We have the representative from PATHWAYos there as well, and we go through what’s keeping them from using the system. Again, most of the time, it’s just lack of experience. They haven’t had this come up, so they’re not sure how to do it.”

Dettwiller said that as part of the Highland County Manufacturers Summit, he will speak about the portal to promote its benefits. They are also “looking to coordinate Business Advisory Council meetings with sector summits in the future to align efforts.”  

Commissioners thanked both Dettwiller and Bolender for the update. Roades said that he was impressed by seeing Highland County’s program in the spotlight as a prime example of “what you need to do” for other counties during the Building Bridges to Careers Community & Career Connected Learning Summit.

“I think what you guys have done so far, quite honestly, is outstanding,” Roades said. “You guys are doing a great job.”

“It’s real obvious that this is working, just from the sheer numbers that we’re seeing,” Britton added. “We’re 100-percent behind you guys on this.

“Thanks a lot for what you do and the work you’re putting in. It’s a great program, because I’ve seen this work, back in my old days in the manufacturing group.”

For more from Wednesday’s meeting, see the story at: https://highlandcountypress.com/commissioners-ok-sheriffs-cruisers-othe….

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