Only a few months ago, Matthew Kennelly would have described himself as “lost.” Like many recent college graduates, the 22-year-old Lincroft native found himself with a degree but little direction – no true passion to follow or dream career to chase down.
By chance, he saw an ad in the paper for a free welding training program being hosted at Brookdale, and decided it was worth a shot.
“I’d never done anything like welding before, so it was pretty intimidating at first,” said Kennelly, who was selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants to participate in the program. “But it went way better than I expected.”
On Aug. 12, after six weeks and 150 hours of hands-on training at the Monmouth County Vocational School in Matawan, Kennelly and 11 classmates officially graduated from the program.
The newly minted welders – nearly all of whom have already been hired, offered jobs or scheduled for second interviews with local employers – were honored in an official ceremony on the Lincroft campus, attended by Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley, Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy and a host of Brookdale officials.
Surrounded by friends and family, the graduates were presented with official certificates of completion and professional-grade gear bags for use in their new careers.
“Our entire Freeholder board and all of our residents are very proud of what you have accomplished,” Curley said. “Each and every one of you have put forth a terrific effort, not only to to feed your families, but also to make our communities and our workforce stronger.”
According to Brookdale Business Training Manager James McCarthy, the grant-funded training program was designed by the New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development (NJCCC) to address a dire need for skilled labor in America.
As baby boomers retire and more college-age students seek out white collar careers, vital industries such as manufacturing and welding are simply running out of workers.
“The average welder is between 50 and 55 years old, and the average welding instructor is about the same,” said McCarthy, adding that the industry will need to fill about 50,000 new job openings by 2020.
“To address this need, Brookdale’s Center for Career Development wanted to design a streamlined program that provided the necessary welding skills needed by local, Monmouth County employers.”
Those comments were echoed by course instructor Jim Mansfield, who has witnessed the transformation of the welding industry throughout his 16-year career.
“There is a huge need out there, which means there is a huge opportunity for these graduates,” said Mansfield, after receiving a rousing ovation from his students during the graduation ceremony.
“The skills that these guys learned, and the skills they will continue to learn on the job, are going to serve them extremely well in the future. They all have the ability to go as far as they want to.”
The training program, rolled out by the NJCCC in April, is exclusively open to workers who have been unemployed and underemployed for at least six months. It has now helped more than 130 residents return to work, including Kennelly.
“I’ll be starting with a truck body shop in Freehold next Monday,” he said. “I’m really excited, actually. I can definitely see this as a career. One day, down the road, I would love to be able to look up at a building and say, ‘I helped build that.'”
As the graduates move on from the classroom to field, Murphy took the opportunity to recognize their hard work and encourage them to continue using Brookdale as a resource in the years ahead.
“We could not be more proud of you, your success in this program, and the successes you are sure to see in the future,” she said. “As you go forward, remember that Brookdale is always open to you.”
The welding program graduates are: Justin Dapolito; Chris Erickson; William Hansen; Phillip Katz; Matthew Kennelly; Joseph Levy; Aaron Mateo; Taylor Peterson; William Rohweder; Edward Sherry; Joseph Stanco; and Matthew Tranchina.
Also attending the ceremony were Dr. Matthew Reed, Vice President for Learning; Nancy Kegelman, Dean of Planning and Institutional Effectiveness; Marie Lucier-Woodruff, Dean of Continuing and Professional Studies; and Dominic Latorraca, Director of Workforce Training.
To more about workforce training opportunities at Brookdale, click here.
Check out more photos of the graduation ceremony here.