Source Press of Atlantic City; By DIANE D’AMICO, Education Writer
The New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with a couple of very large gifts for workers of New Jersey.
The consortium is donating two six-ton mobile learning labs that will provide training in manufacturing skills at county colleges and businesses around the state.
The first mobile lab, currently in North Jersey, teaches metal fabrication. The second, unveiled Tuesday at Camden County College in Blackwood, teaches manufacturing skills including AC Motor Drive, AC/DC Electrical Systems, Pneumatics Systems, Precision Gauging, and Electronic Motor Control.
The labs for the N.J. Manufacturing Initiative were funded through a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
”I’m t rying to get it into Cumberland,” Cumberland County College President Thomas Isekenegbe said as he watched Kevin Schmidt, who built the labs, demonstrate the Mechatronics Learning System by Amatrol.
Isekenegbe said about 100 Cumberland County residents will lose their jobs if three casinos close as planned in Atlantic City by mid-September. He wants to have retraining options available for them as well as expand job opportunities for all residents in the county.
Cumberland and Atlantic counties had the highest unemployment rates in the state in June, more than 9 percent, according to the N.J. Department of Labor. Almost 6,000 more jobs will be lost if the three casinos close. Schmidt said the training might appeal to casino technicians who had worked in the mechanical side of operating a casino.
Speakers at the 10th anniversary event talked about the benefits of having all 19 county colleges working together to provide the training. In the last decade the consortium, working with area businesses, has trained some 100,000 people at more than 4,500 businesses around the state. The new mobile labs will not only bring the training where it is needed, but save money because individual colleges won’t have to buy the equipment.
Vicki Simek, executive director of workforce and community education at Cumberland County College, said she works with about a dozen manufacturers in the county on specialized training, but right now students can’t get the kind of hands-on training they will in the mobile lab.
“We take them to the factories to see it, but we don’t have the equipment,” she said, adding there is a need for skilled labor, and she works with businesses to train potential employees for jobs that are needed. She said of the 16 most recent graduates, 15 got jobs, and one decided to stay in school.
The programs generally lasts 10 to 15 weeks. Some programs allow students to apply what they learn toward a degree at the college. Financial assistance is available. Successful graduates get a Certificate of Competency and can take the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) Certification Exam for Measurement, Materials, and Safety Level I.
Melanie Willoughby, acting president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said the consortium has played a major role in filling the skills gap between jobs and the unemployed.
“This is not ‘Get some training, then I hope you find a job,’” she said. “This is us saying we will help set the curriculum and pick candidates.”
Dan Pomponio, vice president of Precision Automation in Cherry Hill, said he has provided input into the program, and hired its graduates.
“We are proud to be Made in America, and we want to keep our work here,” he said.