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There are more than 80,000 job openings in Ohio, but employers say finding enough workers who can pass drug tests to fill these positions remains a challenge, according to a recent state work force development report.

Ohio Rep. Tim Derickson, R-Hanover Twp., said the correlation of unemployment to substance abuse is one of the most distressing woes shared by business owners across the state.

Job seekers failing drug tests are reportedly a problem despite continued high unemployment.

Butler County had an average unemployment rate in 2011 of 9 percent, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

A total 14,600 people in Butler County were unemployed in December, according to state figures.

Derickson, who represents the western portion of Butler County, chairs the Ohio House Legislative Study Committee on Workforce Development formed last year.

The committee met with businesses and other work force groups across the state.

“Some witnesses suggested that staying on unemployment or in a treatment program is often preferable to an out-of-work individual over gainful employment,” wrote Derickson in the report.

“These problems are real issues facing Ohio’s work force and significantly affect our employers’ ability to find qualified workers.”

According to the state jobs department, there were more than 80,000 job openings in the state as of Friday, and many of them remained unfilled for months because employers can’t find qualified employees or people who can pass their drug tests, businesses have cited.

Derickson said in an interview Thursday he thinks this is a problem that has probably existed for some time, it’s just now getting recognized.

“We heard it everywhere,” he said. “I know it’s a problem.”

Fairfield Twp. Walmart store Manager Ben Kincer said passing a drug test and a background check are the two biggest hurdles to applicants landing a job at his store. It’s been an issue for a while, Kincer said.

“It is a challenge for us at my store,” he said.

Adam Jones, acting division director at Workforce One of Butler County, the county’s job center, said he hadn’t heard of the issue.

“What we have seen are more and more postings requiring an applicant to pass a drug screen, or drug test,” Jones said.

Sandy Oakes, a training recruiter at the Belcan Staffing Solutions office in Fairfield, said the number of people who are passing drug tests has increased recently. The temporary job agency screens applicants with drug tests and background checks for employers.

Five percent to 10 percent of the hundreds of applicants are now failing their drug tests, Oakes said. Before, at least 25 percent failed, she said.

“I feel it’s due to the fact it’s so hard to find a job. I think they know that so they’re trying to clean their act up, where before, I think they used to think, ‘Oh, I’ll fail today, but I’ll get a job tomorrow,’” Oakes said. “It ain’t that way anymore.”

Karen Whittamore, director of Workforce One of Warren County, wants local work force systems to be able to do background checks and drug screens, as well as pre-screen applicants in areas such as soft skills, before they invest training funds and commit program funding.

“All too often, an individual who is not likely to gain employment for reasons other than the lack of training comes to a Workforce Investment Act program requesting training,” Whittamore said during testimony last year.

They may be a good candidate, but there can be hidden and unreported barriers that won’t help them find jobs regardless of training. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get training, she said. The program should be able to work with the person to resolve drug or background issues.

“It is unfair to taxpayers to pay for training that is not likely to result in employment due to other issues,” she said.

John Bohley, executive director of the Butler County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board, said recreational drug use, more employers doing drug tests and long-term addictions that make it harder to stop are reasons they are seeing for failed tests. If people use marijuana recreationally, even infrequently, it can stay in their system for 30 days, Bohley said.

People further along in the addiction process have changes in the function of their brains that makes it difficult to stop, Bohley said.

He said employers, especially in areas such as bus and truck driving, are more frequently testing.

“There’s a heightened sensitivity on the part of employers that it’s important to not have workers who are impaired because of their use of drugs,” he said.

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