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Our 10th Anniversary

Ten Years of ‘Bridging the Skills Gap’ Gives New Jersey’s Workforce Training Consortium Much to Celebrate

By Christopher Biddle

Laid off and unemployed, Paul Kelley of South Jersey faced a bleak future until he took instruction in fabricated-metal machining at Camden County College last year.

Inside Camden County College’s mobile manufacturing classroom, a student demonstrates the use of mechatronics technology to (from left) Ray Vaccari of NJIT, Cumberland County College President Thomas Isekenegbe and Aaron Fichtner, deputy state labor commissioner, during the Consortium’s 10th anniversary event
Inside Camden County College’s mobile manufacturing classroom, a student demonstrates the use of mechatronics technology to (from left) Ray Vaccari of NJIT, Cumberland County College President Thomas Isekenegbe and Aaron Fichtner, deputy state labor commissioner, during the Consortium’s 10th anniversary event

On graduating from the 12-week course, Kelley was swept from the ranks of the unemployed. His new skills and certification in CNC metal fabrication landed him half a dozen job interviews. Then he accepted work as a machine operator with Bright Lights USA in Camden.

At the 10th anniversary celebration of the New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, held at Camden County College, Kelley might have felt some qualms as he faced the crowd of high achievers who had made his journey possible.

But clearly, he was the star of the show. He was living proof that the Consortium and its partners were indeed “training New Jersey.” With the poise of a college president, he explained how it worked for him and then thanked the Consortium “for helping me get back on my feet.”

In its first ten years (2004-2014), the Consortium—in partnership with the state’s 19 county colleges, state legislators, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, and the NJ Department of Labor & Workforce Development—developed curriculum and obtained funding to coordinate and oversee the training of more than 100,000 New Jersey workers with 5,400 companies.

“We are adopting the slogan: ‘Bridging the Skills Gap’”, Consortium CEO Sivaraman Anbarasan told the gathering of officials at the August 20, 2014 anniversary event. That gap, often quite large, is the distance between the skilled-workforce needs of businesses and the actual skill levels of available workers.

Anbarasan brought to the podium nearly a dozen individuals responsible for the Consortium’s training programs, and he announced the unveiling of a second mobile manufacturing training classroom, which was parked outside.

Consortium founders Edward T. McDonnell (original visionary and former head of workforce training at Camden County College), Robert Bowman (the Consortium’s founding CEO), and Larry Nespoli (long-time president of the NJ Council of County Colleges) received awards for their work.

Anbarasan singled out Melanie Willoughby, acting president with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, and NJBIA Manufacturing Network Co-Chair Bob Staudinger for their help in developing the Consortium’s Basic Skills Workforce Training Program and Advanced Manufacturing Training Initiative.

Noting that these programs “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” Willoughby explained that the two new mobile classrooms solve a difficult problem. Only four of 19 county colleges are equipped for manufacturing training. But the mobile classrooms can bring training anywhere in the state where it’s needed. “We don’t have to build facilities at all 19 colleges,” she said. “We just build the trailers and move them around!”

McDonnell, now deputy director with the Camden County Freeholders, eloquently summed up the heart and soul of the Consortium’s training programs.

“Assisting individuals to obtain gainful employment and providing the training to keep others from losing their jobs has always been a top priority,” he said, adding: “It’s about making sure every woman, man and family has the opportunity to participate fully in the American Dream.”

Christopher Biddle is President of Biddle Communications & Public Relations LLC in Moorestown, NJ.

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