2019 was a busy legislative year in the Buckeye State. Flying under the radar amidst all the hustle and bustle was House Bill 2, bipartisan legislation that passed this fall with overwhelming support. Known as the TechCred bill, HB 2 establishes guidelines for the TechCred program that was created and funded in the state budget. The overarching goal of the program is to help Ohioans earn industry-recognized, technology-focused credentials and to help businesses upskill both current and potential employees. To accomplish this, the General Assembly allocated just over $12 million per year for two years to reimburse employers for bearing the cost of credential training for employees.
If it lives up to expectations, this program—and the others included in House Bill 2—could have a big impact. It could support Ohio businesses: It allows employers to develop both current and potential employees and should improve the business community’s pool of skilled workers. It could help job-seekers: Adding meaningful, technology-based credentials to their resumes should open doors for thousands of Ohioans. It could also improve the state’s economy: Attainment Goal 2025 was established because Ohio has a steadily increasing gap between the percentage of jobs that require postsecondary education and the percentage of working-adults who have actually earned a degree or certificate. The deadline is looming in the distance, but this program should contribute to decreasing that gap.
Obviously, a program that provides public funding to businesses needs to have guardrails. Fortunately, TechCred includes a few important accountability measures.
First, only certain credentials are eligible for reimbursement. They must be industry-recognized, able to be completed in no more than one year, and approved by the chancellor of higher education. They must also be technology-focused, which means they “demonstrate the competencies necessary to succeed in an occupation that utilizes technology to develop, build, and deliver products and services.” They can include certificates—which require the completion of a training, course, or series of courses—or certification, which requires the passage of a standardized test. In December, an additional 219 credentials were approved, bringing the total up to 379. These include credentials in the areas of business, healthcare, cybersecurity, manufacturing, and information technology. Importantly, the list does not include credentials that reports have shown are in low demand by Ohio employers.
Second, participating in the program requires businesses to do some legwork. They must identify potential employees who would benefit, as well as the skills and credentials that would best fill their company’s needs. They are also responsible for identifying and partnering with a credential provider. Universities, community colleges, technical centers, and private-training providers are all eligible as partners, but it is business leaders—not the state—that must reach out and establish a relationship.
Third, only certain businesses are able to receive funds. Once an employer has partnered with a provider, they must apply to be considered a program participant. There are eligibility criteria for both employers and employees. For instance, businesses must be Ohio registered employers, and employees—whether current or prospective—must be Ohio residents. The application, which can be completed online, requires employers to submit information on their business, the employees who will undergo training, and the provider they’ve selected.
Fourth, businesses can only apply during specific application windows. The applications are reviewed competitively by the Developmental Services Agency. These are not first-come, first-serve funds.
Finally, there are several limits on the funding itself. Employers can only receive up to $2,000 per credential, with one reimbursement available per employee for each funding round. In total, businesses are limited to $30,000 per funding round. Reimbursement is also dependent on completion; employers must provide proof of credential completion in addition to an invoice of the costs incurred and documentation of the employee’s wage after they completed the credential. The law also prohibits employers from requiring current or prospective employees who receive a credential through this program to accept a position or continue working for their business.
While there are definitely a few hoops to jump through, they don’t seem to have deterred businesses at all. The first application window, which occurred in October, resulted in the approval of 234 employers and 1,576 credentials. The second application window was open through the end of January, so we don’t yet know how many more businesses have applied. But given the expanded credential list, as well as the support of the Ohio Business Roundtable, it’s safe to assume there will be plenty more earned credentials in Ohio’s future.
It’s too early to declare the TechCred program a success. But early signs are positive, and there’s plenty of untapped potential left. Kudos to Ohio lawmakers and leaders for making this program a reality.