Free services at Portage Workforce Connection

Erica Crist

Hidden in a small brick building in Ravenna on state Route 59 is the best kept secret in Portage County, according to Becky Porcase.

The unemployed, the underemployed and those who want to change careers can all find a helping hand at the Portage Workforce Connection, said Porcase, the manager.

“We are a One-Stop agency, and it is to help those who are unemployed or underemployed find jobs or re-train them for the current market,” she said.

Every county in Ohio must have its own One-Stop, a career center that is part of the national workforce preparation and employment system, according to the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

In Portage County where the unemployment rate was 5.2 percent in December, according to the Portage County Department of Job and Family Services, that means nearly 5,000 people need to hear about the valuable resources found at the PWC.

“I think our services are very important to the community,” Porcase said. “Our biggest problem is getting the word out. Once people hear about it, they ask, ‘Why didn’t we hear about this before?'”

In December, Porcase said 553 people used a total of 1,925 services, from job searching programs to resume writing workshops.

Although the PWC can be overwhelming – hundreds of brochures, books such as “Careers for Plant Lovers,” videos such as “How to be a Cheese Maker,” and 17 computer stations – there is always a staff member waiting to help.

“A lot of people come in, and they don’t even know where to start,” said Mary Boston, the supervisor. “It’s amazing how much material you can find in here.”

Boston said the first step is to register the job seeker with Sharing Career Opportunities and Training Information, Ohio’s free statewide job matching system. Once a job seeker is registered and has an online resume, the system will match them with employers based on job descriptions, salaries, hours and locations.

The PWC also hosts small in-house job fairs every few months and a large job fair every June to match employers and job seekers, Porcase said.

“Last year there were 700 employers and 800 seekers, and we ended up with 110 confirmed jobs,” she said. “We don’t let an employer come unless they are hiring.”

Mary Heeter, of Ravenna, went through a WIA training program at the PWC and was hired as a machinist for The Cleveland Punch and Die Company through a PWC job fair.

“I have so much more confidence in myself, and I am the happiest I have been in years,” Heeter wrote in a letter about what the PWC has done for her. “There is no way I could have done this on my own.”

For college seniors who have the skills needed to find a job, Porcase said the PWC wants to make sure they graduate.

“We can help with the final year of your college education,” she said. “If you are going for a four-year degree, we can help with tuition, books, fees, job uniforms – anything during your during senior year. If your car breaks down, we can get you up to $1,000 for repairs, or gas cards to get you to and from school.”

Students must be income eligible, but it is the only program that doesn’t include their parents’ income, Porcase said.

Although Kent State is the No. 1 employer in Portage County, there are no job placement services offered between the PWC and the university, according to Marlene Dorsey, a member of the PWC board and dean of the College of Continuing Studies.

Instead, Kent State supports workforce development through the PWC by making sure people in the business industry who need additional education are connected to programs and are assisted with funding, Dorsey said.

Contact public affairs reporter Erica Crist at [email protected]. Public affairs reporter Deanna Stevens contributed to this story.