Shane Hoover, The Repository
Tiffany Sams decided late last year she wanted to be a state-tested nursing assistant. After months of hard work to get into a program, she was preparing last week to take her final exam.
“I just decided it was time for me to find a career that I wanted to do, and I like to help people,” Sams said. The 33-year-old Canton woman’s long-term goal is to become a registered nurse.
Taking the first step toward a career wasn’t easy for Sams. The state paid for her STNA classes, but she struggled to find a course near her home and lacked reliable transportation to classes.
She overcame the hurdles thanks to Strengthening Stark’s new Career Connect program that helps workers qualify for the jobs local employers need to fill.
Strengthening Stark is a countywide economic development effort backed by businesses, government, not-for-profit groups and education leaders. It aims to raise the talent level of local workers, grow businesses and make Stark County a better place to live.
And jobs are available.
Employers in the area have 8,200 open jobs; 6,100 of those positions pay at least $15 an hour or $30,000 a year, which Strengthening Stark considers a living wage for the region. The most in-demand workers are truck drivers — more than 1,700 are needed. The job requires a commercial driver’s license and pays around $21.50 an hour.
On the other side of the equation are residents like Sams who want to work.
But solving the workforce problem takes more than arithmetic. To get good-paying jobs, workers often need training and credentials. Only 400 of the jobs that pay more than $30,000 have few or no barriers to entry, such as requiring an advanced degree or technical certification.
Some prospective workers also lack reliable transportation or don’t have money to buy the gear they would need for a new job.
Others need affordable childcare or have unpaid student loans that can bar them from getting further education.
To better match workers with jobs, Strengthening Stark and its community partners have launched Career Connect. The program is supported in part by a $100,000 Paradox Prize awarded in April by the Fund for Our Economic Future.