Our jobs fair recently in the Mahoning Valley illustrated the great opportunities we have in our state and some of the challenges we face.
I worked with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce to host the jobs fair focused on the growing energy sector in the Mahoning Valley. We wanted to bring together companies who need workers with people seeking jobs.
More than two dozen employers joined us. With the shale energy boom that is revitalizing the Valley, these companies are eager to find good workers with the skills to help expand their operations.
We would have considered the event a success if a couple hundred job seekers attended. But by the time it was over, more than a thousand people had come through the doors.
I spoke to plenty of people at the jobs fair who had arranged for further job interviews, and already I've begun to hear other success stories from the fair. One man who attended went from a job seeker to a full-time employee in four days. The company that hired him says it thinks it'll hire another three people as a direct result of the jobs fair.
That's great news, and I was glad to be a part of it. But the jobs fair also helped to underscore one of the main reasons we still have so many people unemployed in Ohio and around the country.
We have a skills gap. That employer who plans to hire a few workers and others like it would hire more Ohioans if those workers had the skills they needed.
In addition to employers, we invited more than a dozen training and educational institutions to the jobs fair. And they were busy, too, because many of the people who are looking for jobs don't have the training they need to compete for available opportunities. Largely because of that skills gap here in Ohio, we have 100,000 open jobs at the same time that 400,000 Ohioans are unemployed.
Until we do something about that skills gap, too many of our friends and neighbors are going to be left behind.
Somebody might say that we need federal programs to help provide these skills. We already have them. In fact, we have 47 federal worker retraining programs spread over nine departments, spending over $15 billion of our tax dollars every year. It is a complicated, often redundant and inefficient arrangement, one that means the unemployed aren't getting the training they need while taxpayer dollars are being wasted.
The American people and our nation's employers and job seekers - deserve better. Together with U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, I've introduced the CAREER Act, legislation to improve our nation's retraining programs.
Our bill combines and simplifies our nation's retraining programs to better use their resources to get workers the help they need. It builds in incentives that reward those job-training providers whose programs produce measurable results in job placement and retention. It also matches skills with the jobs available in the market.
These commonsense, bipartisan reforms will ensure federal funds are better spent, and they will help to bring down our stubbornly high unemployment rate. They will give employers the highly skilled workforce they need to grow and expand. Most importantly, they will empower the men and women from all over Ohio who want to build a better life for themselves and their families to take advantage of the good jobs that are waiting to be filled.
The recent jobs fair in Youngstown was successful in helping some folks find good employment, but we won't rest until every Ohioan who wants to work has the best job available. The CAREER Act addresses a key part of the solution: closing the skills gap and getting Ohioans working again.
Portman is a Republican U.S. senator from southwest Ohio.