Making University Partnerships Work for Business

Companies and postsecondary education institutions are working together to ensure students have the skills business needs. Dr. Lance Grahn, dean and chief administrative officer of Kent State University at Trumbull, tells how his school is developing the workforce.

What role does post-secondary education play in workforce development?

Dr. Lance Grahn, dean and chief administrative officer of KSU Trumbull: According to a recent report by EY (a global organization that includes member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited), Kent State University directly contributes more than $1 billion annually to the northeastern Ohio economy. This does not include the 100,000 alumni who remain in northeastern Ohio and earn an estimated $2.4 billion. We take great pride in being part of this large university system and sharing its assets and research accomplishments. This is why we refer to ourselves as “Your Kent State in the Valley.”

Our role is to prepare students to enter the workforce. A college degree or certificate is a sign of greater expertise. In many cases, this is the reason an employer decides to interview and hire a candidate. Employers also see a degree as evidence that you can tackle a big project and finish it successfully. A degree gives workers more flexibility and adaptability. While obtaining their degree, they learn the soft skills that will help them get the job, keep the job and move upward.

Internships give employers an inexpensive and more efficient alternative to the hiring process as they get to know the student’s work habits and skills and make sure they would be a good fit.

As we graduate students and consider additional academic programs, we work with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, local businesses and municipalities, and organizations to gauge the needs of the community. We want to make our programs fit needs in the Valley.

How does Kent State Trumbull approach workforce development?

Grahn: We will soon roll out ProsperTC: A Healthy Community & Campus Collaboration. Working with community partners and students, we will build our capacity to contribute to a prosperous Trumbull County – a safe and secure community that is stronger educationally, economically, culturally, physically and mentally.

Our approach to workforce development includes all of these essential pillars for a prosperous community. Education and economic vitality are, of course, crucial. But the other facets generate business interest and foster entrepreneurship. Businesses looking to move here for economic reasons also value of quality of life: vibrant arts and culture, healthy living styles and community safety.

We have committed to support eBay’s recently announced “Retail Revival” in Warren. As eBay is working with small bricks-and-mortar stores to help them sell globally, we want to make sure Kent State Trumbull students and faculty offer our expertise in business, promotion, web development, and technical and professional writing. We are actively looking at Warren’s incubator, Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center, as well, as it shifts some of its focus to helping young entrepreneurs.

Our faculty and staff are part of many local professional and community partnerships. This is where I ask readers to let us know if they have an idea or a partnership that makes sense. We would love to sit down and discuss.

How does workforce development in our region help students?

Grahn: Our goal is to prepare students for employment after graduation. Over the last few years, we have strengthened our career services effort with new staff and strategies.

Students should have the ability to enter apprenticeships and internships to gain work experiences in their fields so they can better market themselves. We realize the importance of the hard skills. But we also want them to leave here with the soft skills that they will need on the job, such as decision-making ability, interpersonal communication skills, time-management skills and the ability to work as part of a team.

We continue to encourage community engagement and community so that our staff and students can gain leadership experience.

Students enrolled at any regional campus may utilize the career planning resources available at the Kent Campus Career Services Center. Online help is available with career and major selection, resumé writing, interviewing, and locating jobs and internships posted by local and regional employers to Flash@Work.

How has Kent State Trumbull collaborated with businesses?

Grahn: A great example of industry collaboration is our Electrical Engineering Technology Lineworker Program in partnership with Ohio Edison, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. In this program, students receive both broad-based general education and specialized technical coursework on our campus while also getting professional field experience with FirstEnergy. Students may enroll in the two-year associate degree program that prepares them for a career in the electric utility industry.

Students begin this rigorous program by applying to the FirstEnergy Power Systems Institute at FirstEnergy. The admissions process includes an interview, background screening, physical capabilities assessment and technical evaluation.

FirstEnergy selects and sponsors students and, after graduation, may hire them based on staffing needs.

The program started to help train the next generation of utility line workers and address workforce issues. Now it benefits the entire region by producing well-trained, highly skilled graduates who are immediately ready for work in the field. We graduated our first class from the program in May 2017.

Similarly, our veterinary technology students work closely with the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County. Through this growing collaboration, students complete their clinical work at the shelter while providing extra hands to take care of sheltered animals. This is another good example of the win-win partnerships we seek. We want to make a positive and lasting difference in the community by increasing the pool of talented professionals on whom we in the Valley will count going forward.

We also know that the Youngstown Air Reserve Station and Camp Ravenna are critical to our local economy. Reflecting our commitment to these installations, Victory Media recently named us to its 2018 list of Military Friendly Schools. Like the eBay initiative, we hope that the proximity and resources of Kent State University and Kent State Trumbull can help to convince state and federal legislators to increasingly invest in northeastern Ohio and its potential.

How can an employer collaborate with Kent State Trumbull for workforce development?

Grahn: The first step is to reach out and let us know. Employers can reach out to me personally, or contact Michelle Adkins, our staff person dedicated to career counseling and employer relations. Her number is 330 675 8811 and her email is

In addition, our campus sits on about 440 acres. We have more than 350 acres available for development. We have an accessible and convenient location. I would love to hear readers’ ideas for potential development!

Are there upcoming campus events that can help employers?

Grahn: We are very excited to showcase our well-prepared students from a variety of disciplines at our semi-annual career fair on Thursday, March 22. The event is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in our Classroom/Administration Building. I encourage employers to take advantage of this opportunity to encounter some of the best prospective new employees in the Valley. If your company is interested in participating in the job fair and conducting mock interviews at the “Resumé and Interview Preparation” session, visit our website or contact Michelle Adkins.

We are also hosting a Young Entrepreneur’s Roundtable April 26 from 3 to 5 p.m. Young leaders from Inspiring Minds, Jet Creative, Modern Methods Brewery, Millennial Theatre Company, Nova Coffee, Red Head Wine and Toxicology Industries will share their expertise on starting a business or organization.

Finally, I would like to wish all of our local students the best of luck as they finish their academic year.

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