Ohio’s Youngstown State University held a unique career fair in June, focusing on emerging high-tech, automobile companies in the state’s Mahoning Valley. The job fair was virtual and free to attend.
“Thousands of new-collar jobs are being created and YSU is leading the charge to bring the community together and attract talent to the area through this virtual career fair,” says YSU’s Director of Workforce Education and Innovation, Jennifer Oddo.
The valley, which has long had a high concentration of manufacturing jobs, particularly in the automotive industry, has seen those numbers deplete in recent years. Nonetheless, Ohio remains America’s second-ranking automobile manufacturing state by production, outshone only by Michigan.
This year, YSU will be turning its efforts towards a new age of vehicle manufacturing: electric vehicles. Representatives from the University say that the manufacturing landscape is changing, and knowledge of how electric vehicles are manufactured is becoming an increasingly valuable skill. So valuable, in fact, that Ohio has been unofficially rebranded the Mahoning Valley the “Voltage Valley.”
By incorporating local automobile manufacturing companies that are well-established in the area, YSU hopes to promote growth in the green energy industry with a workforce that is ready and willing to contribute. Following federal financing that failed to provide adequate aid in 2019, General Motors closed their midwestern production plant that year, propelling a plethora of qualified applicants into the field. YSU thinks that new investment from electric vehicle manufacturers and private investors could help pull many out of the position they have found themselves in over the past two years. The university aims to have the career fair present a concise place where prospective employees can see the options available, if interested.
Much like fuel-powered vehicle manufacturing, electric vehicle production is a complex and intricate process requiring a honed skillset. “[Employees] may not necessarily need an advanced degree, but [they] need more than a high school diploma,” says Oddo.
Ohio is no stranger to electric vehicles, and some of the country’s first EVs were a result of the state’s innovation at the dawn of the 20th century. In 1899, Packard’s first vehicle hit the road. Over the next decade, the company offered a mix of electric and fuel-powered vehicles. “Up until probably 1911 or so, 80 percent of all the cars on the road were either electric or steam,” says John Lutsch, Marketing Manager at the Cleveland Auto-Aviation Museum. It wasn’t until the dramatic decrease in gasoline costs that the switch from electric permeated the automotive industry. For Voltage Valley, those tides could be reversing soon.
Many of the job vacancies advertised in Youngstown State’s virtual career fair are highly complex and require some knowledge of robotics, mathematics, energy storage, and IT.
YSU is taking this challenge in stride and is launching a little to no cost “skills accelerator” program where those hoping to enter the industry can take technical courses to make themselves more marketable and attractive to these companies, without a four-year college degree. Free industry certifications for interested parties are also available.
The program will include practical employment-seeking skills, recognizing that most Americans are technology-fluent, but may not know how to leverage the skills they already possess in the context of a job search. For example, 95 percent of Americans have smartphones and know how to send a photo, but may not know how to (or when to) attach a resume to a networking email. The skills accelerator program tackles these issues, hoping to mobilize a currently displaced workforce.
“Thousands of new-collar jobs are being created,” says Oddo, “and YSU is leading the charge to bring the community together and attract talent to the area.”