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Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen Visits Cleveland College

Adrian Ma
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, right, with students enrolled in "Right Skills Now," a program at Tri-C aimed at preparing them for jobs in computer-controlled manufacturing.

The country's top economist is looking to a Cleveland community college for some insight into the future of American manufacturing employment.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen visited the campus of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) on Tuesday to meet students enrolled in the school's Right Skills Now program.

Over the course of eight weeks, those students get a crash course in computer-controlled manufacturing, learning everything from how to read blueprints to operating large metal-cutting machinery. Students who make it through spend eight more weeks as a paid intern for a local company such as Swagelok, Kennametal, or GEM Tool.

“I did this program because it’s basically guaranteed employment when you’re done,” said Jessica Dicus, who started the program in August.

Dicus, 37, told Yellen that she hadn't held a full-time job since 2006, but she feels good about her prospects. As long as she shows up to class and does well, the program promises to pave the way to a job as a machinist making around $15 per hour. 

Speaking to school administrators, Yellen said that job training programs like Tri-C’s may help move the country toward fuller employment, “especially now the unemployment rate is low and we hear so many firms are really struggling to find workers.”

A recent estimate by the Bureau of Labor Statistics put the national unemployment rate around 4.4 percent. But some areas of Northeast Ohio, including Cuyahoga and Lorain counties, are closer to 7 percent unemployment.

Alex Johnson, President of Tri-C, said programs like “Right Skills Now” help address that problem by funneling students toward employers who are hungry for skilled labor. Still, he said, the program’s future impact depends in part on whether it can secure funding from sources other than tuition, which costs around $5,000 per student.

To that end, Johnson said he hopes Yellen will carry that message with her back to policymakers in Washington D.C.

“She has a vast and extensive network,” he said, “including the President of the United States.”

Adrian Ma is a business reporter and recovering law clerk for ideastream in Cleveland. Since making the switch from law to journalism, he's reported on how New York's helicopter tour industry is driving residents nuts, why competition is heating up among Ohio realtors, and the controlled-chaos of economist speed-dating. Previously, he was a producer at WNYC News. His work has also aired on NPR's Planet Money, and Marketplace. In 2017, the Association of Independents in Radio designated him a New Voices Scholar, an award recognizing new talent in public media. Some years ago, he worked in a ramen shop.