It’s 11am on the Youngstown State University (YSU) campus in Youngstown, Ohio and the sun is shining. Inside of Kilcawley Center, hundreds of tables are set with posters, flyers, pens, candy, stress balls in the shape of construction hat, and bold signs with company names and empowering images. It’s Career Day and the large room is fairly silent as the companies and YSU employees prepare for a few hundred students around noon.
Near the entrance is a large booth with three men in business casual clothing and logos on their shirts that read “Ajax Tocco Magnethermic”. Ajax Tocco Magnethermic designs and manufactures induction heating and melting equipment for various industries and applications. David Lazor, the company’s Technical Director, is patiently anticipating the arrival of the students. To him, Career Fairs are opportunities for both the students and companies to meet. “We’re trying to help [students] learn what opportunities are available to them. When someone graduates from college and they become an engineer they don’t really know what an engineer is. We help them learn what other types of engineering positions are available.” Lazor explains that there are a variety of positions within each field and that no matter the job, it’s a very rewarding career.
Now it’s just before noon and the students begin to trickle in the room, each of them wearing suits and carrying folders.
Career fairs like this one are excellent opportunities for companies and students to connect. For companies, this is a great recruitment tool. It’s a unique opportunity for them to see the students before ever reading their resumes. For students, it is a learning opportunity and a way to find a step in the direction of their future careers.
Chris Allen, Talent Acquisition Manager at Vallourec USA Corporation believes that “You don’t come to a career fair hoping that you’re going to find that one diamond in the stack of diamonds.” He finds that building a brand and getting your company’s name out there so that students know you is extremely important. “You come here with the idea that you’re going to project your company out there, bring people that work at the company to the event to meet the students, and build relationships with those people so that when we come to other events, the students are already familiar with us and more comfortable talking to us on a one on one basis.”
“You’re never going to grow if nobody knows who you are,” Jessica Chio of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) says. She believes that attending Career Fairs, like the YSU STEM Career Fair, are important opportunities for companies to talk to students and get to know them. For students, the opportunity to attend is equally beneficial.
“School doesn’t teach you everything,” Chio admits, “It’s important to network, meet the companies, and see what it’s going to be like in your professional world when you’re done with school.”
Knowing Goals Before Attending
In order to provide the students with value, the companies decide their goals and make arrangements before attending.
“We meet with the different heads of our departments and determine what type of needs we have for engineers in our different departments and when we come to the Career Fair we have certain people that we’re looking for, whether they’re full-time or interns,” David Lazor explains. Deciding on a goal of attending the career fair can help the companies know what it needs and what it can offer the students.
FirstEnergy comes prepared with a variety of employees from IT, engineering, human resources, and corporate to discuss the different aspects of the company, notes Jaleesa Hendking, Corporate Recruiter for FirstEnergy.
RoviSys, a provider of comprehensive process automation solutions and services, has training for its employees before Career Fairs. “We go through internal training curriculums on how to talk communicate with the students,” says Mark Albert, “How not to intimidate them. How can we get help the best out of them during this discussion?”
Looking at Vallourec’s table, there’s a noticeable number of younger employees. “That’s by design,” Chris Allen admits with a smile. Bringing in younger employees makes the table more approachable. Additionally, these employees are also alumni of Youngstown State University. Allen explains that when you bring employees that can identify with students, the students are more likely to not only approach your table, but also walk away with value.
CEO of Auto Parkit, Christopher Alan, believes in the value of finding a place for the right person, not finding the person for the right position. “A lot of students come here looking for jobs, and a lot of companies come here looking for an employee and the problem with those two things is that you can satisfy those needs, but it will be a short term satisfaction,” says Alan. Ultimately, if the goals of the company and the employee are too different, they will go their separate ways and the employee will find value elsewhere.
Chris Allen of Vallourec echoes this thought, believing that positions can be created based upon a need and the right fit.
Not only are companies, preparing, they also encourage students to prepare as well.
Beyond dressing professionally and carrying resumes, students should come to the Career Fair with ideas of which companies they’re looking to visit. Much like an interview, knowing something about the company and coming with questions is encouraged.
David Lazor says the student who stands out is the one who is familiar with the company. They’re looking for, “someone who does do the research and understands who we are.” Lazor isn’t alone as other company representatives encourage doing research.
“Don’t come here to pass out resumes, come here to look for your passion, however big or small that might be,” Christopher Alan explains. “Your education doesn’t necessarily take you where your passion is. As soon as you can find your passion, the more successful you will be.”
There are many opportunities in each branch of a company for students to pursue while they’re in school and once they graduate. Having a career direction is important. Jessica Chio knows that she can have a unique and personalized discussion with students. “If they have a specific thing they want to do, a focus, then I definitely want to know that. Then I can pique their interest.”
“Students should come to the table knowing what they want to do,” Jessica Hendking states, “Some students don’t really know what they want to do.” This helps companies and students because opportunities depend on availability. If students are into research and a company doesn’t offer research opportunities, it may not be the best fit.
Knowing interests can help students decide beyond short term goals and look to making life-long careers. “You can’t just look 5 feet ahead of you,” says Mark Albert, “you’ve got to look years ahead of you, that’s the best way to prepare.”
Knowing what a student wants to do is an investment for them. Maybe they have discovered their passion late in their education. Christopher Alan witnessed a student light up when talking about electrical engineering even though the student was a mechanical engineer. When asked why the student wasn’t in electrical engineering, he stated that he would have to be in school longer. Alan believes making that jump to another path because, “It’s not the next year of time…it’s the next 30 years that you’re stuck with that decision that wasn’t your passion.”
“Don’t sell yourself short for a short-term gain, when the long-term goal is something different,” Alan encourages.
Value in The Details
Even if students are unsure of what they want to do, they should be open to speaking with companies. Chris Allen welcomes all students to his table, even if he can’t currently hire them. He believes that making a positive connection is important. “A lot them will come up, they’ll have a resume in their hand and they’ll say something like ‘I really don’t have any experience, but I want to get a job’,” something that Allen says is not true.
“Everybody has experience. Regardless if it’s related to what you’re standing in front of me for, you have your experiences in school or part-time jobs, you have experiences from high school, personal experiences just being out in the world. Those are all experiences.”
If a student approaches and that is the first impression, Allen will hand back the resume, tell them to walk around, and then return to him with another pitch. “Regardless if I can hire them or not, they will remember me and what my company was willing to do for them.” He encourages approaching with confidence and for students to sell what they have to offer. Most importantly, he says they should not appear to be anything but themselves.
There is a skills gap that currently exists within the STEM professions. Students are graduating and entering the workforce without any of the skills required in today’s workforce. Many of these skills are quite simple such as writing an email, working with a team, integrity, flexibility, and other soft skills that aren’t taught or reinforced at universities.
“I’m not so concerned about the technical prowess or the classes that they’ve had…what they lack and what they’re really going to have a difficult time with is their soft skills,” Chris Allen explains. He has also noticed that sometimes the most technical students are also ones who have the most difficulty with soft skills.
When someone graduates, companies understand their knowledge is limited. “We don’t expect them to come right in and be experts in our equipment and designing what we manufacture,” David Lazor says, but employers do expect independence, the ability to research answers, and be open to learning.
“There is a steep learning curve when you come from school and go into work,” Jessica Chio said of students, admitting she has experienced it herself. “It’s…’I don’t know how to interact’, ‘I don’t know how to write an email’, ‘I don’t know how to communicate’.” Chio knows there is a solution: internships.
“While they’re doing the internships. companies should be giving them that crucial feedback.” Chio also recommends that students ask professors for professional feedback.
Mark Albert notes that the job market is so tight that real-world experience is necessary, “If there’s a company that someone’s interested in: shadow,” he says.
Michael Knoedler, Director of Technology & Accounts Receivable at Canfield, Ohio’s Baird Brothers Sawmill, Inc., recommends that students enter the workforce early. “Whether it’s part-time work, whether it’s internships, starting to show work experience and work ethic is very valuable in the marketplace today.”
No matter what the job is, even if it pays less, what students need to do look for internships or jobs that have some component of their passion. “If you’re in electrical engineering and your job in the summer is working at McDonald’s,” Christopher Alan notes, “you’re not doing anything to develop that passion and to excite you.” Learning outside of the classroom is essential and students need to take advantage of those opportunities.
While students might know that an internship or a co-op is important, they might not understand why, or even be aware of how different the classroom is from the real world. What can be done?
Jalessa of FirstEnergy has a suggestion. “Students need a bit more help from their career centers at the universities. The universities are so much about research that there isn’t very much room for real-world application, and that’s what shocks the students when they start to work for any company.”
She feels that classes are heavily research based and by the book rather than real-world application. Sometimes, there is a lack of encouragement and even a disconnect on the part of professors. “At FirstEnergy we really like for our engineers to get a professional engineering license, but we’ve heard from some of our students that they’ve been told not to do that from their professors at the universities.”
Not Far from Home
Looking for opportunities does not have to be done far from home. The northeast Ohio region is filled with innovation. This region has America Makes, the government additive manufacturing/3d printing research center; the Youngstown Business Incubator, an internationally recognized institution, which focuses on technology startups; the Chill-Can high-tech self-chilling beverage can plant will be coming to the area; and Auto Parkit is looking to have a facility in Warren.
Ajax Tocco has seen a lot of opportunity to work with the university and other local companies to develop new processes. With additive manufacturing growing in the area, the company is considering looking at printing parts that have been traditionally manufactured in the past. This shift could save time and be more reliable.
For civil engineers, the region offers continuous challenges and opportunities for learning. “We are very cutting edge, very good with advancing what we want to do.” Currently there are a lot roads and bridges that are insufficient and the majority of them are in NE Ohio, reveals Jessica Chio.
Chris Allen says that working for Vallourec has offered him the opportunity to stay in the area, but branch out. “There are opportunities for [students] to stay in Youngtown and expand [their] horizon’s.” Since Vallourec is an international company, Allen has the opportunity to travel and meet people from all over.
“More so than any other other year, there’s more opportunities for them to stay here,” says Vallourec’s Chris Allen.
Although Christopher Alan’s Auto Parkit is located in California, he is a Warren native and looking to bring his company to the area. Alan recalls that this area is what industrialized and revolutionized the world.
“The innovation, the spirit, the history, the technology that is embedded here, the universities, etc., the engineering – it’s still all here, the problem is that people have forgotten about it.”
The California entrepreneur is in awe of the area’s potential. “Some of the largest business in the world were here and prominent for such a long period of time,” he emphasizes. “The problem is that over time, like everything else, you lose sight of the value of the things that you experience every day. You take them for granted.” When you start to take things for granted, you treat them differently.
Alan explains that when something is nice, people will invite others to enjoy it. What is missing is the realization of the value.
“We don’t invite people to Youngstown or to Warren because we don’t see the value. So what we have to do is we have to start recognizing the value, the infrastructure, the institutions that are here, and we have to start being proud of that again. Once we get proud of it, we’ll go out and market it and say ‘Hey, look at how great we are’ and people want to be around other great people. “
The answers to many of the issues this region faces are in front of us. “To make this place what it was isn’t going and figuring out better colleges…or innovation, that all exists here. It was created here. It’s realizing that it’s here and going out and selling it.”