Educating Ohio's Workforce

How Bluffton and employers partner together to succeed in the global marketplace

As the United States gears up for the retirement of 20 million baby boomers in the next five years, economic development specialists are forecasting that an educated workforce will be a key component in companies finding and maintaining a competitive edge in the global marketplace. Re-working the traditional pipeline - graduating high school, entering college and graduating college - will be necessary to getting older adults back into the education system and on track to attaining college degrees.

In Allen County and the surrounding region, economic development specialists are working alongside companies and institutions like bluffton to provide current and potential employers with the resources they need, including graduates, to be successful locally, regionally and globally.


In June 2007, in response to the Ohio Senate Majority's higher education budget proposal, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland proclaimed: "The future of job growth in Ohio is investing in our regional strengths and in making sure we have the most educated, highly skilled workforce possible."

Jerry GoodStricklands Comments are echoed today by Jerry Good, a Bluffton alumnus serving as regional economic development director in the Governor's West Central Ohio Regional Office in Lima: "In the coming years, we will see a major shift in employment in this country, meaning we will need to be more efficient with fewer people due to all those retiring. We will need a more highly educated workforce in order to compete globally."

Good currently oversees the economic development activities of eight counties: Allen, Auglaize, Hancock, Hardin, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam and Van Wert. Within those counties, there are 18 economic development specialists working to market the region to potential employers. Additionally, the specialists assist present employers in obtaining resources they need to be successful. Good has noticed an increased interest in workforce education and re-education - and interest receiving much support from Ohio's current administration.

In March 2008, Bluffton President James M. Harder traveled to Columbus, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., to participate in meetings with university presidents and lawmakers, including Gov. Strickland and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. "This is a time of change and renewed political initiative involving higher education policy at both the state and federal levels," President Harder told the Bluffton board of trustees in April. He is committed to the goal of increasing the number of Ohioans who achieve four-year degrees and are prepared to contribute to their communities and the economy. "Preparing students for productive lives and for responsible citizenship are important parts of Bluffton's education in both the undergraduate and graduate programs," he says.

Workforce education will be the real change agent for companies and organizations in the future, says Good. "There was a day when an individual could achieve a standard of living by using his back. Those days are gone. Today's job growth depends on education and technology for productivity gains. It's about the power of knowledge."


The Allen Economic Development Group (AEDG), a public/private partnership, has been working with government officials of both Allen County and the City of Lima to encourage the expansion and attraction of new businesses to the area. Additionally, the group helps connect employers to employable individuals. Marcel Wagner Jr., president and CEO, and Kristina (Teman '98) Clouse, vice president, are hearing more employers ask not only about the opportunities available in the area for their employees to gain further education, but opportunities for employers to find skilled individuals they can then bring into their companies.

"Training within the workforce is becoming one of the most critical items for attracting and retaining businesses," says Wagner. "The automotive industry alone will soon see its baby boomers retire. That same industry is now requiring workers on its lines to have at least two-year degrees. Workforce education is becoming increasingly important in helping businesses expand."

Clouse has been spending much of her professional time with WorkingEd, an initiative to retain and attract talent to the West Central Ohio region. She works to connect college graduates and those seeking internships with businesses in the region that Kristina Clousehave employment needs to fill. The initiative is a collaborative effort of AEDG, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the Ohio Department of Development and the Governor's West Central Ohio Regional Office.

"The Web site connects employers to area individuals who have college degrees, and not simply college degrees, but skill sets," says Clouse. "We've partnered with companies, colleges and universities like Bluffton, to help employers find qualified employees and educated individuals find quality jobs." The site currently hosts 300 companies and 11,000 resumes.

Because of the changes the job market has seen in recent years, more employers are requiring their employees—new hires as well as incumbents looking to advance within their organizations—to have advanced degrees, says Ted Bible, Bluffton's director of adult and graduate education. "Bluffton has been successful at addressing the scheduling needs of students while also addressing the workforce needs of employers. In addition to educating students for effective leadership, we focus extensively on providing students with improved critical-thinking and communication skills. These skill sets are embedded throughout our adult programs, and students acknowledge that these are the qualities that their employers notice and appreciate most."

In 1990, PRO-TEC Coating Company, the largest automotive supplier of coated-sheet steel from a single location in the United States, began as a joint venture between United States Steel Corporation and KOBE Steel Ltd. of Japan. Its plant location in Leipsic, Ohio, was chosen for a number of strategic reasons: access to Midwestern steel markets, access to rail and motor transportation networks and its proximity to U.S. Steel's production facilities in Gary, Ind., and near Pittsburgh, Pa.

A product of two cultures, PRO-TEC has shaped a distinctive, process-driven manufacturing culture by blending the American steelmaking tradition of U.S. Steel and KOBE's technical and analytical Japanese style with the strong work ethic and family values of rural Northwest Ohio. Its employees—referred to as associates, several of whom are Bluffton graduates—are recognized as the company's greatest asset. In addition to emphasizing the fundamental concepts of ownership, responsibility and accountability, the company relies on a balance of associate education and technological improvements to achieve success.

Eric Franks BCOMP '95, manager of technology and quality assurance, was the first maintenance manager at PRO-TEC when the company began operations in 1993. His transition to quality control in 1995 dovetailed with his time in Bluffton's BCOMP program. "I was purely an engineer from a technical standpoint prior to that," says Franks. "Bluffton's organizational management program broadened my horizons and created an opportunity for me to transition to quality assurance in 1997." Franks is one of seven PRO-TEC employees who have capitalized on the convenience of Bluffton's BCOMP program, each returning to school to complete their bachelor's degrees.

PRO-TEC has always sought to make the education of its workforce a core component, says company President Paul Worstell. "We offer 100 percent tuition reimbursement plus books," says Worstell. "This is why several of our workers have graduated from Bluffton's BCOMP program. Bluffton makes it convenient for our associates to take advantage of higher education." Currently, 71 percent of PRO-TEC's 236 associates have some education beyond high school, and 46 associates have earned advanced degrees while employed at PRO-TEC.

"Employers want their employees to have broad analytical and solution-development skills - skills they develop in our programs," says Dr. George Lehman, director of Bluffton's graduate programs in business and Howard Raid professor of business. "Having a broader knowledge about the world of work adds value to organizations by going beyond the minimum job requirement to design truly innovative solutions to long-standing issues."


Innovation is one reason PRO-TEC was recognized last November as a 2007 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipient—one of five companies nationwide distinguished for performance excellence in the areas of leadership; strategic planning; Eric Frankscustomer and market focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; human resource focus; process management; and results.

Malcolm Baldrige, U.S. secretary of commerce from 1981 until his death in 1987, was a proponent of quality management as a key to prosperity and long-term strength, especially in an ever-expanding, competitive world economy. The award was envisioned as a standard of excellence that would help U.S. organizations achieve world-class quality. PRO-TEC is one of 72 organizations that have received Baldrige Awards since 1988.

Franks, along with Roxanne Antoine BCOMP '99, Dave Maas BCOMP '00 and Phil Steyer BCOMP '02,who also work in PRO-TEC's quality-assurance department, was instrumental in laying the foundation for receiving the national quality-control award. Since 2001, Franks has compiled three detailed Baldrige applications, documenting PRO-TEC's achievements and improvements based on the criterion. Twice the company received on-site visits by teams of national examiners to clarify questions and verify application information—a rigorous evaluation process that included nearly 1,000 hours of review each time. "The purpose of the Baldrige criteria is to provide companies with a systematic approach," says Franks. "In completing the application, we found many opportunities for improvement. The application process allows us to and solution-development skills—skills they develop continually build. Rome wasn't built in a day. Becoming better is a slow progression."

"Performance excellence is a journey," says Worstell. "It was never about winning an award, but about the benefit we receive from assessing ourselves against broad and balanced criteria. We don't feel like we're that good. We don't feel like we've won something. We go through the Baldrige application processes to receive feedback. The feedback gives us ideas for how we can become better."

As companies strive to continuously improve and be successful in the global marketplace, they recognize more and more that their focus must include producing quality products and emphasizing employee education and training to ensure that each employee knows what he or she needs to know to be successful. "Especially in manufacturing, it's very easy to become focused on quality and profitability," says Worstell. "PRO-TEC is about a balanced approach to leadership, strategic planning, community, business conduct and ethical behavior."

Jerry Good notes that PRO-TEC is a great example of how a focus on people contributes directly to producing quality products. And Bluffton plays an important role by providing attractive programs that current and potential employers and employees are relying more heavily on to educate and re-educate the workforce.

"Having a qualified workforce is imperative to economic development success in this region, the state and the nation," says Good. "Having Bluffton graduates working in a quality-control department of a company that has received a prestigious, national quality- control award speaks highly of the institution. And it says that Bluffton graduates can live here locally and compete with anyone in the world."