YSU Tech Academy Fills IT Labor Pool

By Jim Yukech, Associate Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Information Technology Services
By Rosalyn S. Donaldson, Director, IT Training Services And ACT Program Manager

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Skilled technology workers are in high demand. With the proliferation of remote work opportunities and higher wages offered by private industry, big name tech companies and larger universities are drawing talent to their organizations, creating a shrinking labor pool for information technology positions in higher education in northeastern Ohio.    

Because of technology employment opportunities outside the Mahoning Valley, Youngstown State University’s Information Technology Services department explored methods for developing its own talent locally, among the student body.

The Tech Academy at Youngstown State University was established to develop students professionally into strong candidates for open positions in information technology services at YSU or in industry. 

The Tech Academy is a competitive three- to four-year mentoring and experiential learning student employment opportunity. Students in the academy work as student employees while they hone their craft in the IT profession, working alongside IT professionals and acquiring valuable exposure to service management and IT operations in higher education.

Common skills developed in the Tech Academy are time management, problem-solving, communication and leadership skills. The academy provides students with an avenue to learn these skills alongside standard industry skills such as desktop support, computer programming and modern security practices.

In their first year, Tech Academy student employees learn help-desk support and customer service skills, gaining practical experience responding to various technical questions and an understanding of IT service management.

After serving up to one academic year at YSU’s IT service desk, they progress to field support, which introduces students to desktop support, networking and classroom technology maintenance. Students also learn hardware installation, operating systems, software applications, networking and telecommunications skills as student field support technicians. The next step in the Tech Academy is specialization. 

YSU’s IT department is staffed by over 50 professionals specializing in application development and integration, desktop and software engineering, cyber security, networking and telecommunication, technology training, or customer services.  Options to learn about technology are plentiful. Students are matched with IT professionals in their third and fourth year who guide them to understand how their specialty functions within the entirety of the organization.

Students complete projects, attend staff meetings and learn skills from the university’s seasoned professionals.  Career goals are set for students each semester with the intent of preparing them to become full-time technicians or analysts in their senior year, or upon graduation.

Upon graduation from YSU (or even before for our “rock stars”), successful students also graduate from our Tech Academy – the “best and brightest” assuming roles as full-time employees on our YSU IT services team. Academy graduates will be prepared to be strong candidates for any vacancies within Information Technology Services at YSU as well as any company searching for experienced IT professionals.

YSU’s inaugural cohort of Tech Academy students is preparing to move to new departments in their rotation.

Chelsea Sanson, sophomore IT major and Tech Academy student, states, “You have to be ready to help in all of the different areas of IT at once, whether it be a networking issue, hardware/software issue, security/identity management issue, etc. It helps with understanding each niche before you progress in your career in IT.” 

Rochelle Barone-Maldonado, junior IT major, comments that she is learning “different methods of troubleshooting, communication skills, and customer service … which will help [her to] have a successful career in IT.” 

This is exactly the exposure students receive to hone their skills as dynamic IT professionals.

Incoming first-year students are encouraged to apply for Tech Academy during the spring of their senior year in high school. First- and second- year YSU students may apply before each semester starts. Applicants will undergo an interview with Information Technology Services. Our goal is to select the best and most passionate about IT. Current and incoming students may still qualify for student employment within the ITS department separate from the Tech Academy.

Learn more about YSU’s TECH Academy by visiting the website: YSU.edu/tech-academy.