YSU Center for Workforce Education and Innovation

By Emily McCarthy 

Youngstown State University arranged a program to create pathways for people in the community to have an easy transition into the workforce. High school and university students over the age of 17 can join pre-apprenticeship programs within the YSU Center for Workforce Education and Innovation, helping them acquire skills and experience before starting their careers. 

Jennifer Oddo, executive director of the Center for Workforce Education and Innovation, said her relationship with the university started back in 2019 when she was with International Business Machines. 

After releasing the misalignment between the community and the jobs within it, they began an initiative with YSU to bring more IT training skills to the community.

“President Tressel had approached me because of all the emerging needs coming into the area, focused on the workforce,” she said. “[The initiative was] not just for university students, but for anyone in the workforce who wants to get some foundational skills in technology.”

Oddo came to the university about four months ago to unite all other workforce initiatives surfacing within the university, including IT Workforce Excellerator. 

“[There are] three sectors it will be focused on, advanced manufacturing, which is the new construction happening on Fifth [Avenue] and Commerce [Street],” she said. “The second will continue to drive up IBM partnership with the IT Workforce Excellerator, and then in the recent news, you may have heard through the General Motors community investment, a new grant from the department of energy, that we will be standing up a new energy storage innovation training center,”

The program will assist a variety of people, including: those who recently became of working age, those transitioning from the military to the working world, high school students entering the workforce and university students wanting to pick up skills. They’ll also consider anyone else in the community who is interested.

 “So, a lot of attention on the workforce [is] to help get the community skills more aligned with the in-demand jobs that are coming into the community,” Oddo said. “I actually spent about the first three months of my role really taking time to meet with the business leaders in the community-based organizations really understanding from a workforce perspective what’s working, what’s not working, what do they need and how can we help?”

David Sipusic, executive director of the Excellence Training Center and general council for research, said the construction for the ETC will likely be done in April. He became executive director in 2019, where he leads the operations team and keeps the construction project on track. He also leads the Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Consortium.

“[It’s] the consortium of partners around the region: Eastern Gateway Community College, Mahoning County, Columbiana County, Trumbull County Career and Technical Centers, are a part of that. Youngstown City Schools Choffin Career Center, and then America Makes and the Youngstown Business Incubator,” he said.

Sipusic said they meet regularly to discuss programming and how they can best train workers to meet the needs of the companies and industries. In the ETC there is also a workforce and education piece where YSU students can come and use their equipment to be trained as part of their degree programs, do applied research and work on commercial projects. 

“It’s an interesting time to be here in Youngstown,” he said. “Especially at YSU, a lot of positive things are happening.”