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Workforce Accelerator Will Provide High-Tech Training

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — As the expanding digital economy increases demand for highly skilled technology workers, IBM and Youngstown State University are partnering to fill the growing skills gap.

IBM and university officials announced the launch of the YSU IT Workforce Accelerator at a press event Wednesday. The accelerator will provide pre-apprenticeship training and apprenticeship enablement so local companies can train and prepare students and local workforce for high-tech jobs, they said.

Tim Wood, Ohio senior state executive for IBM, said 700,000 technical positions are unfilled nationally. “Closing the skill gaps is critical for moving not only as an individual challenge, but it’s becoming a national imperative,” he said.

Wood, an Ohio native, said the state holds a special place in his heart, and he is aware of the region’s workforce and job loss with the closure of the former General Motors Lordstown Complex. He believes the timing is right for this project that he’s proud to bring to his home state, he said.

Experts from the California-based Institute for the Future predict that 85% of jobs in 2030 have not yet been invented, Wood said.

“This further emphasizes the importance of continual learning and the skill-building that’s required,” he said. “This is why we’re collaborating with YSU on this important IT Accelerator initiative.”

Tim Wood, Ohio senior state executive for IBM.

Apprenticeship opportunities will be available for students in degree and non-degree education tracks, as well as the local workforce, said Jennifer Oddo, New Collar apprenticeship program manager.

“This program will bring access and opportunities to those who may not have educational pathways into IT careers,” she explained.

While IBM will provide the education and enablement support, YSU will provide administrative support to employers looking to hire apprentices.

YSU is formulating partnerships with area businesses and employers to implement and support apprenticeship programs and job opportunities. Those business partners will be announced at a later date. Any company interested in taking part, or candidates interested in the program can to go to YSU.edu/workforce-accelerator for information and to sign up for announcements.

Oddo, who works in Cleveland, said the IBM-designed initiative has two key components: providing pre-apprenticeship training and advocacy, and education and support to member companies to train and hire local workforce and students.

“It will bring local employers and workforce ecosystems and help the local talent become work-ready, and create workforce innovation to build in-demand skills in and beyond traditional degree programs,” she said.

Wood explained that industries such as health care and agriculture are struggling, and six million industry-related jobs go unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers.

“The challenge is bigger than any one company can handle. And we believe to address skill gap, both public and private sectors need to work together for innovative ways to provide academic, technical and professional skills to compete in the economy,” Wood said.

Pictured above: YSU President Jim Tressel says the YSU IT Workforce Accelerator provides training for “new-collar jobs.”

In its “Aligning Opportunities in Northeast Ohio,” Team NEO reports the largest misalignment for jobs is for computer and IT workers. There is far greater employer demand in this occupational field than supply of matching credentials, despite computer and IT jobs offering a median annual salary of $69,077.

The report, based on 2018 statistics, shows that in northeastern Ohio the total demand for computer and IT workers jobs was 12,661, with only 2,216 credentials awarded in 2017.

It was at the Northeastern Ohio Aligning Opportunities meetings where YSU President Jim Tressel heard Jennifer Oddo talk about opportunities and initiatives IBM was working on. Tressel brought the idea to Provost Brien Smith to look into.

Jennifer Oddo, New Collar apprenticeship program manager.

“It’s so exciting to see how opportunities and needs collide to make extraordinary things,” Tressel said. “This initiative will provide students and our local workforce with the skills needed to compete for high-tech jobs in our growing digital economy.”

Wood and Oddo pointed out that 100% of jobs are affected by AI, making such skills imperative.

“Higher education needs to come up with more innovative ways to educate students, and that’s what the YSU IT accelerator initiative is all about,” Smith said.

Wood said IBM’s goal is to ensure that education and advocacy align with industry needs and trends, “but most importantly, to meet the people where they are in their learning journey, whether they are students, individuals switching careers or people who want to improve their technical proficiency. IBM wants to build on this initiative so we can adapt to communities nationwide and get people ready for these jobs of the future.”

AI is expected to create 130 million jobs by 2022, reports the World Economic Forum in “The Future of Jobs Report 2018.” A large portion of these are in-demand “new-collar jobs that require in-demand skills, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree in technology-related fields or a previous career in technology,” Tressel said.

“In the end, we believe the program will be an extraordinary help to our region.”

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.