Southwest Ohio businesses, like others around the country, have struggled recently to find enough qualified applicants to fill entry-level jobs. Miami University Regionals’ Work+ program has come up with a unique solution to this problem that provides key benefits for area employers, as well as for Miami Regionals students.
Work+ connects businesses offering jobs and career resources to motivated students who are looking for paid work and a chance to receive tuition assistance to help pay for school. Launched in 2019, the program has nearly doubled enrollment every year over the past three years and has been praised by business leaders for its innovative solutions to some of the most persistent needs of businesses and students.
With nearly 20 participating companies and more than 80 Work+ employees, the program has become a lifeline for each group in ways that make a difference in their day-to-day productivity. Students enroll in the program and apply for open positions at one of the participating companies. Employers screen and hire candidates based on their own unique job requirements. In exchange for 24 hours per week of paid work, student workers also receive paid tuition.
“Employers want motivated employees who are goal-oriented and work hard,” said Ekaterina Gay, regional director of Work+. “Students are always looking for ways to reduce college costs and earn money. This works for both of them.”
Adam Jones, director of Regional Talent for REDI Cincinnati, an economic development organization that helps recruit business to Greater Cincinnati, said the Work+ program is an important lure for companies considering locating in the region.
“Access to talent and a strong pipeline are crucial for companies across all verticals,” he said. “Programs like Work+ provide solutions to these challenges. This is a stellar example and value-add on why companies should locate and grow in southwest Ohio.
“Companies that choose to participate in Work+ experience reduced turnover, increased engagement with a willing talent pipeline, and access to a qualified workforce to fill their open jobs. The program sells itself and helps REDI Cincinnati promote the region.”
Miami University President Gregory Crawford said the university is proud to lead the way in Ohio in partnering with local businesses to help find solutions that benefit both students and business.
“Work+ is the first program of its kind in Ohio and directly reflects multiple university priorities: Miami's commitment to affordable education, workforce development, and the professional preparation of our students,” he said.
Area business leaders share their positive experiences with students
Word-of-mouth praise for the program has helped spur growth as businesses have shared the program’s benefits, including increased productivity, reduced turnover, improved company culture, and the potential for long-term talent acquisition.
“They’ve taught me more than I’ve taught them,” said Al Fischer, president of The Fischer Group, about his two current student employees. “It energizes me to work with them. They don’t tell me why they can’t do something. They say ‘let’s go do it.’”
Fischer, whose firm develops consumer products and businesses, said the students are working in hands-on roles with the launch of a new business concept, and their fresh perspectives provide insights into problems that more experienced workers might miss.
“When you work long enough with something, you sometimes get blinded by things you don’t see anymore,” Fischer said. “When I listen to them talk about what they don’t know, it gives me new insights. They help me go from a starting point to where my vision is.”
Miami Regionals students bring educational excellence to the workplace
In addition to their enthusiasm and desire to learn, employers note the students’ dedication and the high standards they bring as part of their Miami education experience.
Sarah Capehart, a recruiter with Community First Solutions, a not-for-profit offering health and wellness services in Butler County, said she has hired five Miami Regionals students as State Tested Nursing Aides at Community First senior living locations.
“Miami has such a reputable program. The nursing students we hire are very well rounded,” Capehart said. “Our management team has great things to say about their experiences with the students in the workplace. The program helps build our talent pipeline of committed employees.”
Although Community First has not hired graduates yet, she said that is one of the goals.
“We are invested in them and we provide pathways to career development,” she added. “This is so beneficial to students and employers. It helps build both our communities.”
Student jobs can become careers
Another important benefit for employers is the chance to bring in new talent early in the career search process, giving them a chance to build relationships that could result in dedicated employees for years to come.
Stephanie Marquez, manager of talent acquisition at Shape Corp., a tier one supplier to the global automobile manufacturing industry with a plant in Trenton, Ohio, said the chance to meet students early in their college journey is critical as a manufacturer. Shape Corp. has one engineering student in its Work+ program with plans to add more.
“We like to take a grow-your-own approach to finding new talent,” Marquez said. “We want to get their feet wet, and then we can find areas where they have a passion for working.”
As job choices have evolved, Marquez said many students don’t consider manufacturing anymore, and Shape Corp. wants to change their minds.
“A lot of young people have the impression that manufacturing is dirty, hot, and physical,” she said. “We want them to see how the industry has changed. It’s a really exciting time in the auto manufacturing business due to the growth of electric vehicles (EVs). We’ve recently gone through a massive expansion at our Trenton location and we anticipate it continuing as the EV industry progresses. We would like to keep the students we hire in-house as we increase hiring in Ohio.”
Chance to help students graduate debt free is gratifying
Helping students pay for their degrees was one of the most frequently cited benefits of the program. Most business leaders said they felt happy to take part in a venture that provided such a lasting gift.
“I’m a believer in the program,” Fischer said. “The fact that students can graduate debt free and add value to a company along the way, what’s not to like about that?”
Capehart said for Community First, the Work+ mission dovetails nicely with their own mission of helping others.
“It’s truly a life-changing opportunity,” she said. “I would highly recommend it. I wish it had been around when I was a student.”