The COVID-19 pandemic has hit our community hard. I have seen its effects on our community, as a pastor, as a local school board member, as a businessman, and, most importantly, as a parent. Families have been affected, businesses have been impacted, and communities have been suffering.
The pandemic caused our local school board to reimagine learning and we have designed a blended plan with a remote option as best for all concerned. This was a difficult decision to make and it was accomplished by a lot of hard work and preparation, in addition to much prayer. Gradually, we are adjusting to this new environment.
We have also received assistance from a higher power of a different type — the state and federal governments. Our rural community lags behind other areas in broadband access, so I am pleased to report that the Ohio Department of Education has awarded our local school district more than $36,000 in CARES Act funding which will allow us to improve Internet access for our students and teachers. This will help students log on from home or a hotspot on their remote learning days.
Even better news is that increasing broadband access helps bring more learning opportunities to our area for everyone, including adults. These opportunities are much needed as we face a major “skills gap.” A recent report from the Lumina Foundation says that Meigs County currently lags the rest of Ohio, with just over 26 percent of our adults possessing an associate degree or higher, in a time when more than 60 percent of Ohio jobs require post secondary degrees or credentials. As Meigs County lags Ohio’s attainment levels, Ohio is also behind the national average in adults with post secondary degrees, certificates or credentials.
Why is that important? Studies show that jobs requiring a post secondary degree, credential or certificate pay more, allowing parents to provide better for their children. Also, adults with a degree or credential have a lower unemployment rate than those without, and stable employment helps strengthen families and communities. Specifically, a recent study from ReadyNation, an organization of more than 2,700 global business leaders including 70 in Ohio, has noted that Ohioans with a bachelor’s degree out-earn by more than $20,000 per year those who only have a high school diploma.
Fortunately, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, a coalition of 40 public and private groups began working on the “skills gap” problem. This partnership, Complete to Compete Ohio, includes employers, educators and leaders in government, associations, unions, non-profits and local communities. They’ve worked to fast track a plan to attack this problem so it doesn’t continue to hold Ohioans back from finding employment and keep Ohio from attracting and retaining businesses with high-paying, skilled jobs.
The partnership’s blueprint, Bridging Ohio’s Workforce Gap, details five ways to make that happen: helping Ohioans understand how more education will improve their ability to secure in-demand jobs; aligning education with needed business skills; ensuring education is accessible and affordable; making sure that Ohioans can complete, not just start, their education; and developing regional partnerships to address local education and workforce needs.
The plan proposes numerous strategies, including helping businesses expand training of current and potential workers so they obtain high-value credentials and post secondary degrees; increasing internships, apprenticeships and co-ops for young people and post secondary students; expanding the number of students who apply for federal aid; and providing help so formerly incarcerated individuals can become skilled and be employed.
Our recent local discussions around learning in the pandemic era have allowed me to see the best in our community and also see some places where we need to refocus our efforts on supporting one another in our dreams and aspirations for our families and communities. Being able to access the resources which are already out there is a crucial first step.
Greater broadband coverage will help students and adult learners access the education they’ll need to compete for jobs that will keep our families and communities strong. This will be a win for everyone, long after the pandemic is over.
Adam Will is a native of Meigs County, residing in the Texas Community of Meigs County with his wife and three children. He is a member of the Eastern Local School Board and is the Lead Pastor of Mount Hermon United Brethren in Christ Church. He loves reading, engaging with others, and seeing people transformed by following Jesus. You can dialogue with him by emailing email@example.com , or find his blog at www.adamwill.net