New Jersey and community colleges: Perfect together

Recently, Gov. James E. McGreevey announced that the state of New Jersey will merge all state-run job training programs, 27 of them now scattered throughout several state agencies, under a single roof: the State Department of Labor, which will be renamed the "Department of Labor and Workforce Development."

This consolidation will streamline bureaucracy and, more importantly, will make the state’s successful job training programs available to more individuals and businesses than ever before.

The state has a broad array of programs to help workers at all stages of employment, from the high school graduate looking for a better paying job, to the working mother taking career-building classes online to fit her schedule, to the Ph.D. adding skills to stay competitive in the new economy.

These programs also help businesses remain competitive. In addition to providing a higher-skilled workforce in general, these programs allow companies to tailor training grants to their specific business needs. Customized training grants help companies train their employees in everything from lean manufacturing, to management, to English proficiency. And much of this training, funded by state grants, is provided by New Jersey’s community colleges.

In his "State of the State" address, the governor stated that training New Jersey’s workforce is one of the most important investments we can make for our economy. And he recognized that the state’s community colleges are the backbone of this effort.

New Jersey’s 19 community colleges serve more than 350,000 students each year. Of these, 100,000 are taking professional, noncredit training programs to upgrade their skills or get better jobs. And 50,000 are enrolled in customized training grant programs, funded by the Department of Labor.

Here at Middlesex County College, in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, we are providing training in communications, interpersonal skills, sales, food sanitation, and computer and business enterprise skills for 1,530 people. These include programs for distribution (Crate & Barrel), retail (Wegmans), and manufacturing companies (Pressman Toy, Motts Carteret, Arko, Leland), as well as nonprofit organizations (ARC and Cerebral Palsy) and governmental agencies (Woodbridge Developmental Center).

This system is working to provide New Jersey with a well-trained workforce. In the past two years, the McGreevey administration has invested $39 million to train nearly 70,000 workers. But the system can be improved.

The state’s 27 training programs each have their own eligibility requirements, application procedures and fiscal calendars. It can be very confusing for the people we set out to help in the first place. The governor’s plan to consolidate these programs will help the individuals and business owners who seek training, and it will help our colleges get the training done more efficiently.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development will devise a single strategy for workforce training in New Jersey. Community colleges will remain central to that strategy. We will continue to provide interview coaching, résumé-writing workshops, and training that helps people energize their careers.

Gov. McGreevey has established concrete job goals for the next five years. Creating 200,000 new jobs; training 150,000 workers; relocating or expanding 500 businesses into New Jersey; attracting $6 billion in new public/private investment; and helping 300,000 businesses get started in the state. Middlesex County College looks forward to helping the governor reach those goals. Retooling the state’s workforce development system is an important step in that direction.

Dr. John Bakum

Middlesex County College President