Transcript: “Educational Attainment and Collaboration in Mid-Ohio” with Dr. Dorey Diab


Dr. Dorey Diab, President of North Central State College in Mansfield, OH, joins the podcast this week. In this episode, we discuss educational attainment and how it relates to economic prosperity, as well as collaboration between business and education to meet the skill needs of the region.

CLINT: Welcome to the Workforce Pulse podcast. My name is Clint Knight. I’m the Director of Workforce Development at the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development. We’re going to bring in a variety of guests to talk about the state of the workforce in mid-Ohio and how it relates to the state. We’re going to present opportunities, ideas, and resources to grow the workforce, talk about continuing to educate our workforce, and ways that we can work together. Made possible by the Area 10 Workforce Development Board, this is the Workforce Pulse. 

All right, this is Clint Knight, Director of Workforce Development at the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development back with another episode of the Richland Workforce Pulse Podcast. We appreciate you guys tuning in to listen again. Today in the studio with me I have the President of North Central State College, Dr. Diab. Thanks for joining me this morning and I am excited to talk to you. 

DR. DIAB: Glad to be with you, Clint.  Looking forward to the conversation.  

CLINT: Earlier in the series, we talked to the Lieutenant Governor about the state of the workforce across the state and the opportunities for young people or adults alike to get an education, and learn new skills.  

Today I want to talk to you a little bit about what we call the talent gap. So, when I say talent gap, what exactly does that mean? 

DR. DIAB: It means what’s needed for our workforce to meet the needs of the economy. I will give you an example. Back in the last century 1900, it used to take about 100 years for the data and the information to double, right, halfway through that century, it took only 50 years. In today’s environment, it is doubling, like on a daily basis. 

And why is that? That’s because of the Internet and the availability of information globally. And ever since 2007, with the advent of the iPhone and mobile applications and those kinds of things like that. In today’s environment, people are expecting to click on an app and get the work done, right? And automation, robotics, and those kinds of things like that, have grown tremendously since that time over the past two decades.  

So, when we talk about the talent gap we say, do our people have the necessary knowledge, and hands-on experience in order to meet employment needs? Because as we all know, when you get into this technology, you get better pay, a better salary, a better standard of living, and a better quality of life. And the employers, especially in our area and especially in more like a rural environment, are looking for that talent from a demographics that’s perhaps decreasing in nature, and so there is a lot of competition and need for that talent in order to close that gap. 

CLINT: So, for example, Richland County, Mansfield, we are traditionally, our largest bulk of employment opportunities is in manufacturing. There are over 10,000 manufacturing jobs in the county alone. Manufacturing is changing. Technology is growing the pace, growing the capacity, and technology is working its way into manufacturing faster and faster. So, the traditional way that we’ve done manufacturing is changing, the way people have done is not the way we’re doing it today, right? 

So, what you’re saying is we’re looking to gain new skills so that we can meet the demand as employees of what the equipment or the technology asks of us, correct? 

DR. DIAB: As the saying goes, it’s not your grandpa’s factory anymore, right? That technology is changing so much with automation and robotics. In addition to that, people are asking beyond that. For instance, we have so many technical programs, and for every technical program, we have a business advisory committee.  

The reason to have those business advisory committees is to guide us on what’s happening with the employer world, and what talents are needed? Every time they come back, and we’ve been doing it for several years now, they said we need you to have, in addition to the technical skills, the human or soft skills and the hands-on skills. 

What they are referring to is that technical knowledge helps you get the job. The soft or human skills help you keep the job, and hands-on experience helps you get the job and hit the ground running, right? That’s what we’re doing at North Central State College and providing all these so that our graduates can deliver on that productivity for the manufacturing employers from day one. 

We have the Kehoe Center, as an example, where our engineering technology program is housed. We have technical skills, hands-on skills, and soft skills in order to deliver what the employer needs.  

CLINT: So, I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but is it fair to say that the more technology we have access to on a daily basis, then what we call the soft skills might be dipping? Is that kind of what we’re seeing? And it’s a different kind of gap. 

 DR. DIAB: In some ways, yes, but again the employers are asking for all of that, right and correctly so. Again, with that educational attainment level comes with these technical skills and hands-on skills, and the soft skills, and that’s very much related to the standard of living and the quality of life that we enjoy in our community. 

I’ll give you an example in comparison of educational attainment and how that is related to the standard of living and what employer talents are needed. At our state, for instance, the goal of the state, realizing that, and one of the key reasons they brought Intel into our state right now, is because they have that goal of having 65% of the adult population having some kind of level of higher educational attainment, beyond high school, for all the adult population, 25 years of age or older. 

Our state has made progress in that regard. Right now, it’s staying about 49.5% of the adult population has some kind of level of higher education attainment. When we look at Richland County, for instance, it’s only at 29%, so we have a long way to go in order to meet that. You say, so what, right? Well, when we look at Delaware County, they’ve already met the goal of the state. They’re at 65.4%. Then the question is, so what?  

If you look at the median household income, meaning 50% of the population has a higher income than that, and the other 50% have a lower income than that. In Delaware County, it is a $111,000 annual median income. You look at Richland County as an example, it’s only $49,000. That’s how it’s related to higher education attainment, to better salary, to meeting employer needs to make our community a more prosperous and thriving community. 

CLINT: So, educational attainment, whether being defined as a short-term certificate, being something that you take eight, ten, twelve weeks, or six months to get, a two-year associates degree, a four-year degree, or a master’s degree, whatever it is, educational attainment accounts for all of those things. 

DR. DIAB: Yes, whatever attainment you can go for, training and skills you can go for post-high school. Because, as we mentioned at the beginning, technology and the economy are changing so fast and that’s why we have the flexibility of delivery at North Central State College. You can go and take a course for one semester. You can take it for 8 weeks. You can take it online. You can take it hybrid, meaning part of the lecture is online, but the experiments are in the lab and the clinical is hands-on and in person.  

We’re trying to deliver, giving flexibility to the students and the employer. We’re even delivering courses at the employer sites. We’re doing our noncredit training for our employers. Take, for instance, talk about manufacturing. Let’s take as an example Charter NextGen. They’re into the plastics industry, right? This is a growing company. We’re in the fourth group of training that we’re providing for them, close to about 40 people between them and Nanogate as an example, with injection molding for plastics, for cars, and things like that. That’s a key part of our manufacturing that we’re delivering at the Kehoe Center, and the company is paying for that.  

The students really don’t have to worry about the pay aspect of it. They need to put the time to get the necessary training. If they’re not going for that noncredit, they can continue on from the high school perspective by doing College Credit Plus or dual enrollment where they can have what we call Tuition Freedom. That means if they take two courses with us at the high school and continue on at North Central State College, they can get tuition-free until they finish an associate degree or 64 period hours.  

So, the affordability and the value are there, we just need our people to believe in the importance and the value of higher education. Not to think in terms of the short term. Well, if McDonald’s pays $15, this is a good enough job. What is the long-term affordability and the future for growing a family and having a family sustainable type of wages? That’s what we’re talking about. 

CLINT: So that educational attainment has a relatively immediate and direct effect on what your income is and what you mentioned earlier about the overall prosperity of the community. So, I want to go back to something you mentioned there, the development of the polymer program at North Central.  

Over the last five to 10 years, we saw a growth in polymer plastics manufacturing here in the county and you saw a need through talking with those employers to narrow a skills gap, a talent gap that we mentioned earlier, and you specifically developed a program. Can you talk a little bit about how you did that and how you went about growing that polymer program? 

 DR. DIAB: Yeah, we have a workforce development outreach for the community and talk with the employer and see what their needs are. The partnership with CNG, if you will, is about having delivery of about 190 hours of blown film or injection molding for Nanogate in the automotive industry for about six months or so, and, as I mentioned, the companies pay for it.  

So, our outreach department for the workforce is going out and about to every company here. We’re delivering, for instance, at Mechanics Bank, business courses and financial courses and those kinds of things like that, where our faculty goes and the employers are paying for it. 

Many employees as an example, and I give credit to Mechanics Bank here, where they said our employees are busy. They’re worried, especially during this COVID time about daycare or about transportation and those kinds of things like that. They’re delivering that at their site, during working hours, like on a Friday afternoon, where our faculty go there and deliver the training for them and they’re gaining the necessary credit for it.  

With CNG, on the other side, is that they’re coming over to the Kehoe Center, the company is paying for it, and they’re getting those training over a six-month period with 190 hours of training and they can take those courses, if you will, and should they decide to continue to get their associate degree, they can transfer to that and continue on with that process. 

CLINT: So, it’s an option to get a specific short-term training that relates directly to the job that you have, but you also have the option to continue on and further your education once you’ve finished that short-term certificate.  

DR. DIAB: Exactly right, exactly right. I will give you another example. For instance, our collaboration with the career centers, like Pioneer, where we have a College Now program, right? Our students, which are also their students, at their junior and senior years, they are finishing their associate degree one month before finishing high school. Go figure that one, right? And they’re getting into engineering, business, or bioscience. The best part of it is that they’re not paying for the two years of college. They’re saving themselves and their parents two years’ worth of college. 

Now I will give you another example in that these students are continuing with their baccalaureate degree in mechanical engineering technology. So, we got approval for a baccalaureate degree. We’re one of the first six community colleges in the state to get that back in 2019. Last year, we graduated the first class of 8 students. This year, we’re graduating 18 to 20 students, and that’s meeting the employers’ need, which is a strong manufacturing base. 

CLINT: A key part of that, one of the things you mentioned earlier, was that Business Advisory Council, where you bring in your local employer partners who talk to you about exactly what it is that you need these students to have. What knowledge do they need to have about whether it’s polymer, engineering, or healthcare? So, you’re learning from the employers directly. 

DR. DIAB: Exactly one of the things that I did when I came to the institution is that our (inaudible) requirement, our program meets with our business advisory at least once a semester and so we’re doing that once a semester, in the fall let’s just say, and in the spring, I bring all the advisory committees together in one group and we survey them either during or before and we say what are your needs? We report to them on what the college has been doing in order to meet those needs. 

CLINT: That’s pretty incredible. I want to touch on the engineering you talked about. You developed that degree here over the last few years, and one of the things I want to highlight is that North Central State College shares a location with Ohio State University, Mansfield. Ohio State University, Mansfield has also created an engineering degree, and you guys kind of work together as partners to talk about what you were doing in those programs. In the interest of not being duplicative, right? And best serve the local workforce economy, so can you talk a little bit about that?  

DR. DIAB: Absolutely. Long before we got approval to deliver a baccalaureate degree in engineering, we’ve been partnering strongly with Ohio State University in Mansfield to work on an engineering program, because that’s our manufacturer and engineering company that was asking us for. The part that we were able to get on their first, and so now they have OSU is starting with that as well. The difference between the two is that OSU is more focused on project and operation management. We’re focusing more on the hands-on and the nuts and bolts of what mechanical engineering is like.  

So, if you’re looking for somebody who wants to deliver on the design and the operation and on the management piece, maybe you’ll want to talk with OSU. If want to talk to somebody who can deliver from day one with the hands-on skills and experience and nuts and bolts of engineering, then you want to get the NCSC graduates. Like I said, OSU is just starting with that, so have not had a chance to have graduated yet, but we already do.  

The other piece of that, as you know, engineering equipment costs a lot of money. We have over 50 some years that we’ve been in existence, we’ve been always updating and upgrading our engineering equipment. So, one of the key things of part of our collaboration with OSU is that they have not spent a lot of money on that. Let’s use NC State equipment over at the Kehoe Center, we’re sharing that, and we’re sharing faculty, as well, in order to make these things happen, because our focus is not on what’s for us, especially as much as it is, what’s for our community and for our employers. 

CLINT: So, one of the great things for our community that offers to our employers is that North Central brings in students from outside the region. 

DR. DIAB: Absolutely, this is one thing that will help us grow the demographics here. No question about it. 

CLINT: So, you have students that travel here to come to school. Whether they commute in or they come here and live and go to school. Then there’s an opportunity because of the relationship you have with the local employers, there are opportunities for internships and for them to learn about where they can be employed right here in Richland County. 

 DR. DIAB: Exactly right, for instance, several years ago we got a grant and now we’re continuing on with that position, which is focused on internships so that workforce development aspect of it and we collaborate with OSU on that. When we first started, we had a dozen companies and a few students that were taking internships. Now we have over 100 companies that are doing those, and we have a job fair, as an example, with more than 300 students have been participating in that.  

Because, as I mentioned to you at the beginning, it’s about technical skills, soft skills, and hands-on right? This is a chance for the employers to assess whether the student has that or does not have that, especially if we can hire them for an internship prior to actually doing the full hiring and full-time position that they have. So, they can do co-op. They can do part-time jobs for these students to try to check them out and also allow the student to check the organization out. The more we can do that, the more we can keep those students and those graduates, those employees in our community, and help our community prosper. 

CLINT: And they’re going to be better employees too, right?  

DR. DIAB: Absolutely. 

CLINT: We agree on this. You’ve heard me say this over and over. We have a large responsibility to help these young people understand what it is they don’t want to do, just as much as it is what they do want to do. That goes along with where they don’t want to be, where they do want to be right, when they want to work, and how they want to work, so immersing them in that workplace is key for them to be successful for you or for another employer or for themselves, wherever they end up. 

DR. DIAB: We have such a great value in living in our community, whether that’s the cost of living, or the quality of life in comparison to living in an urban environment, as an example. The more we can connect these students to our community early on in the process, the more they’re going to stay in our community and help our community. 

CLINT: So, I’m specific to Richland County, Ohio, and you guys serve a little bit broader of a region, so talk about the counties where you’re seeing students come from and the high school students or the high school programs that you’re partnering with. 

 DR. DIAB: Right. Officially by the legislature, we serve Ashland, Richland, and Crawford, but with the online delivery, it’s become wide open to anywhere we want to deliver courses, right? As an example, in terms of demographic, about 50% of our students come from Richland County, another 15 come from Ashland, and another 15 come from Crawford. A total of 11 counties from the surrounding area come to the college in order to pursue that education 

Another thing that I want to talk with you about is the delivery piece. Prior to COVID, for instance, we used to have 30% of our courses being delivered online, and 70% in person. During COVID, we switched to 70%, being online, 30% being in person, and now we’re back into 50/50 in terms of online, hybrid, meaning lecture, online, a lab in person, and 50% being in person. That accommodates the different needs of students. We’re not going to have 100% online. We have to have that combination that accommodates the need and flexibility and provides the agility for the students and the employer to take whatever courses meet their needs, especially the adult population that has family, that are working, trying to go to college and that convenience of the delivery of courses helps them out a lot. 

CLINT: So, we talked a lot about manufacturing, you touched on healthcare a few minutes ago. That’s something I want to dive into just a little bit here. Healthcare is one of our top two employer groups in the region, in the county, specifically here in Richland County. What’s North Central doing to respond to the needs of the healthcare professionals right now? 

 DR. DIAB: Again, we have strong partnership with our healthcare partners, for instance, Ohio Health and Avita. They came to us, and we talked with them about the delivery of the needs of the healthcare professional. Even many hospitals across the state, have traveling nurses right? They’re paying two to three times as much as regular pay in order to provide for the health care of our community. What we got started with them is an LPN program that is delivered differently than the way we deliver it that we’re starting one for the summer as an example, and takes two semester’s worth of courses before they become LPN, right? Then they can continue on once they work with their employer for their registered nurse.  

Pretty soon, we’re hoping to do so, we have applied for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing that’s likely coming up to us. We’re in the 3rd and final stage of that from the Ohio Department of Higher Education and we hope to hear from them pretty soon, like next week, on the approval for that before we go for accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. We take a lot of pride in the quality of the program we deliver, that’s what our employers are telling us, and that’s why they’re coming to us to deliver on that LPN, RN, and BSN program.  

Those who are really interested in health care don’t have to start that way. They can, for instance, go to the Career Center and get an STNA in one semester. Once they get that going, they can have their employer pay and come to us and do the LPN program or for two semesters. 

They can continue working and learning and decide what exactly they want to do, and if the RN is for them, they can pursue that and finish it in two years if they go full time. If they really enjoy that, and many of the hospitals in the area that are pursuing magnet status, request for instance, that the employees finish their BSN within five years of employment. They can continue on with that as well and finish that up. Again, with that comes a lot of satisfaction for caring for others, that’s what the health care professionals are about, right? In addition to that, they increase their salary and benefits for themselves and their families and make our community a better place to live and learn. 

CLINT: So, you guys have worked for years now to develop these seamless talent pipelines, it appears. When you’re looking at both adult education sides. If you’re an adult that is looking to learn, you’ve been deployed in a career for years. You’re looking to do something different. There’s an opportunity for you to come in and do some short-term education and find a new skill, whether it be manufacturing, whether it be health care, whether it be financial, all of those. Also, you mentioned that you’ve created those pathways starting with high school. You have high school students finishing their associate’s degree before they graduate high school? 

DR. DIAB: Absolutely. They can come to the college and we have the three programs I mentioned before: business, engineering, and bioscience. They can finish it before they finish high school. That’s one. We also have one that completely finished at Galion High School, for instance in the liberal arts area. We have other superintendents asking us if they can do the same over there because it’s a little bit more affordable to them if they do it at the high school using credentialed faculty by our accreditation standards.  

If they are able to do so, then again, that’s the affordability piece, especially for themselves and their parents, right? If you can save yourself two years’ worth of college. That’s the reason why 75% of our students don’t get loans and that 25% who do only end up getting about a few thousand dollars, in comparison to the national average or state average, which is about $30,000 to $36,000 when they graduate. So, this is really a very good value, affordable, flexible delivery with a credential and good quality that our people in the area can take full advantage of. 

CLINT: So, one other thing I want to mention here, the polymer program that we mentioned, the blown film, that was one of the terms I’ve heard a lot at North Central is customized training. So that was customized training that you developed for those specific companies. You’ve done it for Avita, Ohio Health. Is there a possibility for other employers to receive or develop customized training?  

DR. DIAB: Absolutely. We’re visiting all employers and we’re delivering it to them at their sites, especially in supervisory training, for instance. Because of the talent gap that we talked about before right? Many employers are thinking, “how can we promote from within?” So, they’re asking us to deliver on that, supervisory, management, leadership training. We’re doing a lot over here at Kehoe. We’re doing it at Crawford County as an example. They can come to the center or we can deliver it at their place, and we have faculty that are available to go to different locations.  

We even have a mobile unit if they want to get training in hydraulics, pneumatic, computer, etc. We can take that over to them and provide that necessary training. It’s just unbelievable the flexibility and the capacity of our faculty and staff to deliver on the needs of the community. 

CLINT: So, across this series of the Workforce Pulse Podcast, we’ve talked about a couple of different funding sources that could be used to pay for these trainings. You’ve talked about a lot of opportunities to get your upskilling or your college courses or your short-term certificates paid for. We talked with the Lieutenant Governor about TechCred. You have programs that could qualify for the TechCred funding.  

DR. DIAB: Absolutely. 

CLINT: We talked about the IMAP program that an individual could go and apply for. They don’t have to be going through their employer. So, you have technical programs, and upskilling certificates that could be funded through IMAP. 

Another opportunity through our local Job and Family Services could be the incumbent worker training that we talked about in another episode that could be specifically used to fund customized training that you developed for one employee, three employees, 25 employees, right? You have used that across the county and across the region, right? 

DR. DIAB: And employers can go for the TechCred, $2,000 per employee, up to $30,000 per employer to get that necessary training. We also have the Choose Ohio First Scholarship for STEM Program (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). They soon can several thousand dollars to help them with that process. The Tuition Freedom that I mentioned to you at the beginning, if you go for the high school students continuing on with us.  

That’s the reason that the return on investment for our graduates. We measured the students when they graduate six months after they graduate the salary that are making in comparison to how much they paid for their associate degree. Do you know that the return on that investment is 289%? It beats the stock market big time, right? This is important for the family and the parents and the student to know about. 

That’s why I keep encouraging our people to think long-term and in terms of the importance of that higher educational attainment. That’s why, for instance, we’ve been recognized by Achieving the Dream which focuses on student success in a national organization with more than 300 community colleges, we’ve been designated as a Leader College of Distinction because of our focus on student success. 

We’re here to help our community. It’s not about us, it’s about the community we serve. I know that’s what the Chamber is doing. I know that’s what you are doing and thank you for all your efforts. They make our community a better place to live, learn and invest, as you say.  

CLINT: Well, I really appreciate your partnership and North Central’s investment in the community, the willingness to partner with the high school, and even earlier to middle school, junior high, and high school students in the adult education as an effort to narrow that gap, and we have direct evidence here. These programs that you’ve already talked about are working to lower that talent gap. 

DR. DIAB: That’s one of the things that our board is so proud of what we’re doing to our community, that they took a full-page ad in Sunday’s paper, talking about all the successes that we have had, how we’re serving our community. Our board is very proud of our faculty and staff and their commitment to serving the needs of the community.  

CLINT: So, this article that Dr. Diab is referring to is in the News Journal, Sunday, April 10th, if you’re catching this podcast at a later date. There’s a full-page article here: North Central State continues to lead higher education in North Central Ohio. And you’re welcome, so you’re welcome to be a part of the community at North Central State College, and we appreciate your investment here in not just Richland County, but in the region, and we appreciate your time to come on the Workforce Pulse Podcast and talk with me today.  

Dr. Diab, I really appreciate it. 

DR. DIAB: Thank you for the invite, glad to be of service. 

CLINT: Thanks for listening to the Workforce Pulse Podcast. Make sure you subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so that you can be aware of when the next episode is available.