YSU Launches Virtual Career Fair for In-Demand Jobs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Employees working for a company that is starting from scratch have to be “comfortable with chaos,” says Chris Allen.

During the inaugural Explore the Valley Virtual Career Fair Wednesday hosted by the Center for Workforce Education and Innovation at Youngstown State University, the talent acquisition specialist with Ultium Cells LLC in Lordstown offered remarks about shifting gears with his career and starting his new job in January. He hosted a panel discussion with two manufacturing engineers with Ultium, who discussed their own transitions to working for the electric vehicle battery manufacturer.

Coming from a traditional manufacturing background at the General Motors Powertrain Toledo Transmission plant, Ryan Miely said he’s used to working in a facility where structure, documentation and processes “have been in place for longer than I’ve been alive.”

Now with Ultium, the team there is establishing those processes and that structure from the ground up, which has been a challenge, but it’s one he’s up for, Miely said.

“Being part of that process is fun and I’m just embracing it,” he said.

Sydney Negro transitioned from a forging company and said she’s seen more drive from the operators at Ultium.

“It’s good to see people want to work and make a good product,” Negro said.

The challenge for her has been the fast pace with learning the processes, she said. Training is ever-changing and the battery process is very detail-oriented, but the tasks the trainers have workers do “help you see the bigger picture of the battery process,” she said.

“You’re learning on the go,” she said. “It’s fully hands on and the trainers are working while they’re training you.”

Being comfortable with that kind of fast pace and ever-changing priorities is something that Allen makes clear when interviewing potential hires, he said.

The panel discussion was part of an afternoon-long career fair that was geared toward individuals looking for a career change as much as it was for existing students. As the so-called “Voltage Valley” sees investments into large-scale projects like Ultium – a joint venture between GM and LG Chem – the local workforce will need opportunities to attain the skills to work the available job, as well as opportunities to learn about what jobs are available.

Connecting individuals with learning opportunities and information on available jobs is central to the mission of the Center for Workforce Education and Innovation, said its executive director Jennifer Oddo. Part of that effort is working with employers to develop strategic workforce initiatives like the career fair series, which will continue through the forthcoming months, she said.

“For all of our career explorers and lifelong learners out there, we really are striving to meet you where you’re at in your life and learning journey by providing all of you with the tools and resources to participate in our new economy,” Oddo said. “These things are helping to close that industry skills opportunity gap.”

The center looks to host four to six career fairs through the remainder of the year, Oddo said. Any employer who is hiring in the Mahoning Valley will have the ability to participate in upcoming career fairs. The goal is to connect employers and job seekers to industry with in-demand skills, such as IT, advanced manufacturing, logistics, health care and business services, she said.

“We often hear from employers that they can’t find talent, yet we also hear from potential job seekers that they aren’t aware of the jobs. The data also tells us that we do not have enough skilled workforce to meet the needs of our employers,” Oddo said in an emailed response for comments. “Our goal at the Center is to first, bridge that divide between employers and job seekers through these virtual events and secondly, work with employers to create new training programs that create a new corps of workers for the region.”

Many of the in-demand jobs in the current market don’t require an advanced degree, but they do require more than a high school diploma, she said. Ensuring potential workers possess the skills needed is a challenge that is bigger than any one company can solve.

The center’s focus is on transforming workforce by improving community access to in-demand, industry 4.0 skills and jobs, leveraging supplemental training and hiring programs like pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships, she said.

“Closing the skills gap has moved really from an individual challenge to a community imperative,” she said. “For example, our universities are only producing less than one-tenth of the science graduates that are needed in the industry today. Higher education is just not equipped yet to meet the ever-changing demands of the modern day workplace.”

One of the initiatives is the YSU Excellence Training Center that will open this year at the corner of 5th Avenue and Commerce Street, Oddo said. The center will offer interdisciplinary learning for individuals looking to get foundational skills, or add to the skills they already possess.

“We are all lifelong learners. And with the adoption of [artificial intelligence], we know jobs are changing,” she said. “So we have to be in this constant state of building new skills to make sure we are competitive in the marketplace.”

The next career fair is scheduled for June 16. During the event, the Center for Workforce Education and Innovation will announce additional training programs for areas of IT, advanced and additive manufacturing, battery cell manufacturing at Ultium and others. Click HERE to register.

Pictured: Ultium Cells Talent Acquisition Specialist Chris Allen and manufacturing engineers Sydney Negro and Ryan Miely discuss transitioning their careers to the EV battery manufacturer during a virtual career fair Wednesday hosted by YSU’s Center for Workforce Education and Innovation.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.