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Economy and Business

Cleveland job agency sees rising placement rate
Demand-driven model boosts job placements atthe  Employment Connection

Employment Connection raised placement rates using a demand-driven model.
Courtesy of Brian Bull
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In The Region:
Nearly three years ago, the job placement agency serving the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County took an about-face in how it operated. The change focused less on job seeker’s needs and more on the employer’s.

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Right out of the recession, Employment Connection was struggling. 

It was having trouble placing people into jobs, while also dealing with a volley of funding cuts. Then came a 2009 Workforce Investment Act review. It found Employment Connection was failing to meet its goals.

“I don’t know that we were actually assessing our outcomes," Executive Director Dave Reines says. "We were sorta more looking at how we would work with individuals and not necessarily creating that employment pipeline.”

Changing their focus 
Reines says that sparked his agency to reflect on just how it operated. 

“We felt that were spending a lot more money on the job seeker and supporting training than we were on the employer," Reines says. "And we felt strongly that our model needed to reflect the fact that both were important customers of ours.

"So we began to focus a little bit more on the development of a business services team and skill sets in that team that were different than we had previously.” 

Employment Connection and its non-profit contractor, the United Labor Agency, took on what is called a demand-driven model. They brought on agency employees with backgrounds in private-sector recruitment, HR and sales. David Megenhardt, executive director of United Labor Agency, says there was a whole new energy to this revised team.

“We got our staff on the phone, we started calling, we started talking, it really was that conversation between the employer and our staff that really drove this," Megenhardt says. "Because, you know, we could guess what they wanted, but until we actually started working with them, fill their jobs needs, then we better understood what it is that they needed.” 

Not that job training services like resume writing and interview coaching were dropped, says Reines.  But now, the needs of those providing jobs is part of the mix too.

The results are in
So what’s been the outcome, almost three years later? 

“We’ve gone from about 1,500 placements in the first year," Reines says. "We expect to place close to 4,000 this year.” 

Employment Connection’s now working more closely with regional manufacturers, call centers and health care providers like the Cleveland Clinic to find workers that fit their specific needs.

Megenhardt says since implementing the demand-driven model, the success rates for Employment Connections’s job seekers have greatly improved. Its placement rate for adults is nearly 83 percent, compared to 53 percent in 2009 and women, ex-felons, students and African-Americans are seeing bumps in placement and earnings.

At the same time, the agency has had to endure a  $3 million budget cut, leading to a shrewd reworking of its training programs.  

“When we contract with training providers, we have what we call 'performance-based contracts' now," Reines says.

Instead of just paying trainers up front for placing a job seeker into a training program, Employment Connections pays them 50 percent on placement, 25 percent when the training is complete and the final 25 percent when that job seeker is placed into a job.

"So, it’s made the trainers get a little bit more involved in ensuring that the training they’re providing is going to result in employment as well," Reines says.

Hannah Halbert has studied Employment Connection’s use of the demand driven model for the advocacy group Policy Matters Ohio. She proposes taking its success story to the state level, using casino revenues to fund a regional grant program.

“To support these kinds of conversations:  So, what are our needs?  How do we best meet them and how do we grow our sector, how do we grow our regional economy, and how do we get more people into jobs?” Halbert says.

Halbert says in addition to forging partnerships between job placement agencies, worker training programs and companies, such a program should also focus on identifying specific needs of cities and regions.

(Click image for larger view.)

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