Training Program is Taking a Proactive Approach to Fix a National Problem

While America is facing an unprecedented skilled labor shortage, the university is investing in its own staff to create a pathway to career development.

“We need to find creative ways to recruit and retain skilled trades workers,” said Mark Conselyea, associate vice president of Facilities Operations and Development (FOD). “The new Facilities Maintenance Associate Trainee Program aligns with this goal as well as a commitment to provide professional development opportunities.”

In summer 2019, FOD, and the Office of Student Life, in partnership with Ohio State’s Center on Education and Training for Employment (CETE), launched the Facilities Maintenance Associate Trainee Program.

Twelve participants, from custodial workers and storekeepers to transporters, were selected to participate and represent FOD, the Office of Student Life and the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. Beginning in April 2019, participants went through classroom instruction, assessment, certifications, learning interventions, mentorship and on-the-job training. Instructors taught trainees how to use hand and power tools, plumbing, electrical and carpentry. Participants also learned about skilled trades terminology, customers service and overall communications skills.

A diverse population of staff was represented, including Asian/Asian American and African/African American. In addition, two females participated in the program in an effort to join what historically has been a male-dominated industry.

“We are opening doors for staff to gain valuable skills and hopefully bring a new perspective to the work that we perform and the customers we serve at Ohio State,” said Desiree Weber, FOD Operations senior business operations analyst.

August Giesler - The food service industry has been August’s work preference since he was a teenager, something the former storekeeper in Student Life Dining enjoyed. Giesler heard about the training program from his brother, who also works in maintenance. He’s now proud to call himself a facilities maintenance associate with FOD.

Daniel Girma - Fourteen years ago, Daniel followed his heart and moved to the United States from Ethiopia. Although he reunited with his wife Kidest, he says he struggled to find a job, until Ohio State gave him the opportunity to be a custodial worker. He held the position for more than a decade, then had the opportunity to take part in the training program. He’s now a facilities maintenance associate.

Erlinda Lowery - Erlinda came from the Philippines to the United States in the 1997. She got a job as a housekeeper at a hotel and came across the opportunity to work at The Ohio State University. She accepted a job as a custodial worker with Student Life and has been serving the campus community for 13 years. Now she loves being able to interact with students and staff and looks forward to the challenge of now being a facilities maintenance technician.

All trainees passed the initial training and were promoted to Facilities Maintenance Associate, while nine of the 12 participants passed the promotional probationary period.

The trainee position creates an opportunity for those who participate to create a better financial future for them and their family and communities,” said Kevin Kee, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 4501. “The possibility of home ownership, college opportunity for them or members of their family, and a middle-class future, not only allows you to dream but means to make some dreams come true and that's just the tip of the iceberg.”

The program also benefited existing skilled trades workers who volunteered or were assigned to participate as mentors. Following the training, 60% of mentors believed the course enhanced their own skills.

“Mentors and mentees need ongoing training,” said Kenny King, director of FOD Operations academic district. “Mentors need encouragement and support to push through obstacles, and mentees learn new skills and background information to understand the details behind what they are being shown in the field.”

FOD and CETE hope to expand the program beginning in autumn 2020.