Opportunity@Work Brings ‘Stars’ to Ultium

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Division of Workforce Education and Innovation at Youngstown State University is partnering with a national nonprofit to connect employers with skilled, non-degree workers – and the first local employer to participate is Ultium Cells LLC.

Ultium is already hiring individuals through Opportunity@Work, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that partners with employers and training providers to connect overlooked individuals to career opportunities.

The nonprofit’s initiatives target so-called Stars – an acronym for Skilled Through Alternative Routes – that describes workers who have been trained at community colleges, the military, skills programs and bootcamps, or learned on the job but didn’t obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Workers designated as “Stars” comprise 64% of the workforce in the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman Metropolitan Statistical Area, according to Opportunity@Work.

Nationally, more than 70 million Stars were displaced from 7.4 million middle- and high-wage jobs over the last 20 years, the organization says.

That has a negative impact on workforce diversity as well: 61% of Black workers, 55% of Hispanic workers and 66% of rural workers of all races are Stars.

The goal of the program, funded through the General Motors community investment program, is for it to be sustainable moving forward, says Jennifer Oddo, executive director, YSU Division of Workforce Education and Innovation.

“Many of these Stars still have difficulty getting connected to employers,” she says. “We are trying to promote the jobs that don’t require degrees.”

Local employers are connected with workers through the Opportunty@Work proprietary Stellarworx platform.

Jobseekers can participate only by invitation. This ensures the workers in that talent marketplace have been vetted by the training providers and possess the skills employers require, Oddo says.

“It’s our goal to provide an easier way for our regional employers to connect with Stars going through alternative training programs like apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, industry credentials and other workforce training programs,” she says. “And thanks to General Motors’ community investment in this invaluable work, we can help businesses find the skilled talent they need and support Stars’ access to the roles that will provide them upward mobility.”

YSU launched the pilot this year and has already placed some workers with local employers like Ultium.

Jackie Duncan was out of work for about a year before being invited to participate in the program. He is now a full-time production operator at Ultium and earning benefits.

“It is an exciting opportunity to be hired by a company with so much possibility for advancement and potential for growth,” Duncan says. “I am also enjoying working with a young and energetic workforce that is so excited about working at Ultium Cells and the future of growth potential.”

Workers hired by Ultium include supervisors, technician leads and production roles, says Tom Gallagher, Ultium vice president of operations.

“At Ultium Cells, we recognize skills as a key asset and value a diverse workforce; the technical components can be taught through on the job training,” Gallagher said. “As we enter into a new era of manufacturing and sustainability, our partnership with YSU and Opportunity@Work continues to play a key role in helping identify and skill the workforce we need and envision. It’s an all-in approach.”

The program is in its early stages, and Oddo hopes to bring on more employers, training providers and job candidates in the coming months.

YSU’s workforce division alone has more than 1,000 active learners in its skills accelerator, all of whom will be invited to Stellarworx as they get closer to graduation, she says.

“We have a whole team working on getting that critical mass built up on both sides,” Oddo says.

Initially, Opportunity@Work looks to place 300 workers with local employers this year, says Cheston McGuire, senior communications manager for the nonprofit.

“Stars in the U.S. have the skills to work in roles earning 50% more if they’re just given the chance,” he says.

The Youngstown area is the fourth market to launch a program with Opportunity@Work, according to McGuire. Other markets include the Washington, D.C., metro area, which announced a new partnership with Maryland, as well as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Pictured: Jennifer Oddo is the executive director of the Division of Workforce Education and Innovation at YSU. Photo by Julie Grant, AlleghenyFront.org