A new associate's degree program in technical studies developed by Youngstown State University and FirstEnergy Corp.'s Power Systems Institute is a perfect example of a mutually rewarding partnership between a forward-looking university and businesses in the area it serves.
In a comprehensive assessment of the university conducted by the state auditor's office last year, Auditor Jim Petro said YSU must become more responsive to the community's needs by, among other measures, expanding partnerships with area businesses. The new associate of technology degree, which focuses on electric utility technology, demonstrates that the university has accepted that challenge and plans to meet it expeditiously.
With the anticipated need to replace several hundred electric-line workers, YSU and the utility company will provide students with coursework at the university and laboratory training at a FirstEnergy facility. YSU increases enrollment, FirstEnergy develops its own workforce, and area residents who participate may well have jobs waiting when they finish.
Rick Luse, PSI's director, says that company projections anticipate a shortage of experienced utility line workers over the next 10 years because of retirements. And with studies showing that many people prefer to live and work within 50 miles of where they grew up, PSI is developing partnerships in each of the regions served by FirstEnergy's electric operating companies: Ohio Edison, The Illuminating Company, Toledo Edison and Penn Power. The company says that program graduates will be eligible for line worker positions paying approximately $18 per hour plus full benefits.
More programs possible: The university hopes that similar programs can be initiated with other companies. "The electric utility program will be the university's first Associate of Technical Studies degree," says Associate Provost Janice Elias. She describes the new degree as "industry-driven with a technical component outside of the realm of the usual university instruction."
The YSU-FirstEnergy partnership could serve as a model for other businesses and industries as well. As companies seek better educated employees to meet future needs, many of those potential employees don't want or need traditional four-year baccalaureate programs. Two-year degrees such as this provide the best of both the academic world and the world of work.