New Program at YSU Connects Overlooked Talent with Local Jobs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University’s Division of Workforce Education and Innovation has partnered with a national nonprofit to connect employers with skilled, non-degree workers.

Opportunity@Work is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that partners with employers and training providers to connect overlooked individuals to career opportunities, according to its website. Initiatives target so-called Stars – Skilled Through Alternative Routes – including those who have been trained at community colleges, military, training programs, skills bootcamps, or learning on the job rather than a bachelor’s degree.

Research by Opportunity@Work reports Stars comprise 64% of workers in the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA Metropolitan Statistical Area. Ultium Cells LLC, the first employer to participate locally, is already hiring individuals through the program.

Nationally, Opportunity@Work reports there are more than 70 million Stars who were displaced from 7.4 million middle- and high-wage jobs over the last 20 years, according to a press release. That has a negative impact on workforce diversity as well, as 61% of Black workers, 55% of Hispanic workers and 66% of rural workers of all races are Stars.

“We are thrilled to partner with YSU and help create an ecosystem in northeast Ohio where Stars can translate their learning into earning and access the career pathway jobs they deserve,” says Bridgette Gray, chief customer officer at Opportunity@Work. “Despite their tremendous skills, Stars are far too often excluded from opportunities simply because they lack a bachelor’s degree, and with Ultium Cells leading the way, we’re excited to help other employers discover inclusive hiring as a long-term solution to problems like the so-called ‘skills gap.’”

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

Local employers are connected with workers through the nonprofit’s Stellarworx platform. Employers and training providers, such as community colleges, and career and tech schools, can get started by visiting Upon joining the Stellarworx platform, they invite Stars to be part of the Stellarworx platform.

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

Job-seekers can only participate 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 apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, 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, according to the release.

“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 high school students to existing workers looking for a new career, says Tom Gallagher, Ultium vice president of operations. Positions include supervisors, technician leads and production roles.

“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, but 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 are just kicking this off,” Oddo says. “We have a whole team working on getting that critical mass built up on both sides.”

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

The Youngstown area is the fourth market to launch a program with Opportunity@Work, he says. 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.

So far, the nonprofit is partnering with nearly 50 employers in those other markets and has seen success in San Francisco since launching that market last year. Over the next three years, Opportunity@Work looks to place 3,000 workers in the Bay Area, he says.

Over the next 10 years, Opportunity@Work looks to place at least 1 million working adults in good-paying jobs across all the markets it serves, generating a $20 billion boost in annual earnings.

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

If you are an employer or training provider, CLICK HERE to participate in the Opportunity@Work Stellarworx platform.

Image courtesy of Opportunity@Work

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.