CLEVELAND (AP) — Mary Lamar was looking for a job that was a good fit for her.
She worked as a nurse for a while, but found it boring. A stint as a welder in a shipyard ended because she could no longer stand the winter cold. Then Lamar had what she described as a “break” in her life. That breakup led her to plead guilty to robbery in 2019 and serve a prison sentence.
Now Lamar, who lives in Cleveland, operates a stamping press, making thousands of specialty metal rings every day at Talan Products, a local manufacturer.
“I’ve always been mechanically inclined,” she said. “My mother said I should have been an engineer.”
Lamar got her job through a program developed by business and community leaders — with help from philanthropy — to match people of color, women, and formerly incarcerated people with manufacturing jobs.
Manufacturers in Cleveland and other cities, including Buffalo, Chicago and Milwaukee, are facing a retirement workforce that leaves thousands of unfilled jobs. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, the industry job shortfall is expected to reach 2 million by 2030. The Cleveland area has an estimated 10,000 manufacturing job openings.
By diversifying their jobs, Cleveland-area manufacturers also hope to improve the communities left behind when factories closed or moved to the suburbs. And now with $5 million in federal stimulus money, they expect to help create thousands of new manufacturing jobs over the next few years.
Philanthropy is investing millions of dollars in the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network, a Cleveland-based nonprofit advisory group spearheading the fundraising campaign. The nonprofit offers adult training and high school internships. The Cleveland Foundation has given $2.5 million as a capital-building grant to the nonprofit and to help it set up the internships.
A dozen other foundations contributed about $4 million of the $18.5 million to help build the nonprofit’s new headquarters and training center. It opened in October in one of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods. The rest of the funding came from state and local governments, businesses and individuals.
Donations from foundations and nonprofits have raised millions of dollars in public funds, said Ethan Karp, CEO of the manufacturing nonprofit.
“You can see this unique role of philanthropy,” he said. “Without this, there would be no (manufacturing) partnership and none of that government money would have come sooner.”
The nonprofit organization has helped manufacturers here hire several hundred employees and interns in recent years. While that’s nowhere near enough to alleviate the job crisis, a major expansion is underway with plans to train and hire about 3,000 workers by 2025 using federal stimulus money. The plan is to quickly expand the number of student workers and high school internships.
“Individual companies cannot provide holistic community solutions,” said Karp. “You need community involvement and you need companies that work together. The role we play is to bring those companies together with the trainers, with the transport companies, with local governments and with civil society organisations.”
PRODUCTION JOB CRUNCH
Manufacturing remains an economic mainstay in Northeast Ohio, despite half a century of plant closures and layoffs. The industry still employs more than 270,000 workers in a region of 21 provinces, but is struggling to find enough workers. Most job openings are entry-level, but others are in engineering, computer science, and data analytics.
A national emphasis on college over vocational education has squeezed the talent pipeline into industry, which many still view as a dark and dirty business even with the rise of automation and technology. Meanwhile, some communities in major manufacturing cities have little access or exposure to the industry, even as they experience higher unemployment and underemployment rates.
“It’s hard to imagine a life you can’t see or access,” Karp said. “There is a lot of untapped potential that doesn’t even know that a career in manufacturing exists. It’s a problem for them, but it’s also a problem for the production that they don’t get the best talent they could.”
Lamar learned about the Access to Manufacturing Careers training program while living in a shelter after her release from prison. The program, which launched three years ago, pays interns $14 an hour as they learn the fundamentals. According to the nonprofit, Lamar is one of 113 program graduates who have landed jobs in manufacturing.
Another program supported by the Cleveland Foundation is the high school internship program of the nonprofit organization, Early College, Early Career. Students like high school senior Kyren Lewis split time between school and practice. Lewis works at Lincoln Electric, a manufacturer of welding equipment. He is one of 29 students, including five women, enrolled in the paid internship program.
Students take weekly classes at the new center that prepare them for entry-level manufacturing jobs while also working part-time with companies in the region. A total of 92 students have graduated from the program since 2017, of which 80% have obtained employment.
Training in manufacturing improves Clevelanders’ job skills, builds wealth and makes the city’s workforce more attractive to businesses, said Bishara Addison, director of work preparation for the Fund for Our Economic Future, an alliance of financiers who contributed to the new center and is helping fund the activities of the non-profit organization.
Manufacturing training programs in the underprivileged communities across the country should get a boost under the Biden administration, which oversees major investments in roads and bridges, semiconductor manufacturing and clean energy, said Michelle Burris of the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.
Some programs are already seeing success. Jane Addams Resource Corporation, a Chicago-based nonprofit, has placed 274 people in manufacturing jobs since 2017. Their training included welding, 3D printing and computerized machining. The nonprofit has expanded its job training program to Baltimore and Rhode Island.
Like the Cleveland nonprofit, the Chicago program provides support services such as a job coach and emergency cash assistance before and after interns are hired by manufacturers.
“We focus on long-term results for our clients,” said Danielle Hoske, director of development and communications for Jane Addams. “We really want to build a life of financial stability and security.”
At the Northland Workforce Training Center in Buffalo, nearly 900 students have earned certificates or college degrees in manufacturing and energy-related industries. About 85% of graduates are hired and earn an average salary of $40,000, according to information from the center.
In Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership is a network of manufacturers, construction companies and unions offering training and apprenticeship opportunities. Hundreds of young adults, women and people of color have found jobs with an average salary of $48,500, according to the network’s website.
“Companies need people and they’re willing to go above and beyond what they normally would to search in places they haven’t searched before,” Karp said. “There’s a nice combination of having the right results in terms of addressing racial and economic inequalities and getting good business results.”
Lamar says she appreciates the training that helped her get her job and plans to keep it.
“Coming from where I came from, I had no idea how to run a press,” Lamar said. “I was a welder with very little experience in machining. So being able to learn and achieve a lot of things related to the press, that was the biggest satisfaction.
This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Reporting for this article is part of a Chronicle of Philanthropy fellowship with local news organizations and was guaranteed by a Lilly Endowment grant to increase public understanding of philanthropy. The Country is solely responsible for the content of this article. The AP and the Chronicle receive support from the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. For all AP philanthropic coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.