Local business leaders say it’s tough to find drug-free applicants

Local business leaders say they're frustrated with the lack of drug-free job applicants

Local business leaders say they're frustrated with the lack of drug-free job applicants



YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Companies used to look for a good resume, experience, and references when hiring an applicant. Now, there’s something else they have to focus on — making sure applicants are drug-free.

Business after business in the Mahoning Valley said workers are needed and companies are ready to hire.

One big problem remains, however, and that’s finding someone who can pass a drug test.

Lencyk Masonry is helping build the new Boardman fire station. Its bricklayers have a tough job in what can be a dangerous profession.

“That’s the first step in having a safe job, is making sure the employees aren’t doing drugs and they come to work with a clear mind,” Larry Lencyk said.

Having a drug-free policy is mandated for any company that does state- or federally-funded work. Mahoning and Trumbull counties got grants from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services a year ago for a drug-free workforce community initiative.

Starr Manufacturing in Vienna is one of the six employers that has modified its drug-free workplace policy and let workers know.

“They have the advantage of no questions whatsoever about what the consequences are of testing positive,” said Dale Foerster, human resources manager at Starr Manufacturing.

The drug-free policy spells out the entire procedure and repercussions in very clear detail. Starr Manufacturing also took one step on its own by putting a brochure in each letter, informing an applicant that they didn’t pass a drug test.

The company is well aware that some people cross their fingers, hoping for a miracle.

“So that other end of the rainbow is…positive information that, not that you just failed and we don’t care. We care. Here is some education to help you,” said Ginger Nolen, with Starr Manufacturing.

That education is also being extended to companies implementing new policies, updating ones that may have been written years ago, or realizing there’s a drug problem but not sure what to do next. It’s about providing information so they can make a decision.

“Not only is it a problem of hiring employees who are drug-free and can pass that drug test, but it’s also making sure the employees on the job are drug-free and can pass those tests,” said Brenda Heidinger.

“Companies are wasting these energies and resources to bring folks in, and they get pushed back to the drawing board. So setting that precedent with the drug-free workforce policies is essential to moving the needle,” said Nick Santucci, director of education and workforce development at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Trying to identify and address some of these concerns is what’s really important. The Regional Chamber is getting help from the mental health and recovery boards to emphasize drug-free policies and workplaces.

“To kind of set the precedent that if you want to work, you must stay clean. And we’re willing to hire you but you must stay clean,” Santucci said.

Getting a job and keeping it just doesn’t seem to be a priority today, says Dave Johnson, who has trouble finding qualified applicants.

“Some of these new, younger kids that come in, that are in their 20s, half of them can’t pass a drug test,” he said.

Johnson is the CEO at Summitville Tiles in Boardman and he’s frustrated by how the drug problem is draining the talent pool.

Starr Manufacturing interviewed four people recently and two of those applicants failed drug tests. One was even arrested and charged with drug possession.

Foerster said she has noticed the drug problem also affects older workers who have 8 to 10 years of training and, seemingly, wouldn’t want to lose anything.

“They’re very, very valuable kinds of workers that are hard to find and they are affected as well, and I think that surprised me the most,” she said.

Drug screening can eliminate applicants but it can also keep people from applying.

There’s a huge economic impact to drug use. Unfilled jobs mean that someone is not getting paid for doing that work, which means the economy is not growing.

“Unfortunately, I think it speaks to the real challenge that we have,” said Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor. “We know that this addiction crisis is a crisis in our country and Ohio is at the epicenter of it.”

It’s not just the opiates that you hear about — it’s also marijuana.

Some Ohio cities and towns want to lure a marijuana growing and processing center. Those licenses will be handed out soon.

Salem spent three months debating whether medical marijuana was right for the community.

“It was unanimously rejected by the small business people that know what it’s like to hire people around here,” Johnson said.

When medical marijuana becomes legal in Ohio, companies will need to be aware of their rights.

According to the Ohio Bar Association, employers can prohibit medical marijuana in the workplace. They don’t have to accommodate an employee who uses it because marijuana remains an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act. It’s also legal to fire an employee for using medical marijuana and if they’re fired, they are not entitled to unemployment benefits.

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