In just over two months, twenty previously unemployed residents from Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties have become certified, in-demand professionals, thanks to a free welding training program offered through Brookdale and Ocean County College (OCC).
The 171-hour program, which ran from April 15 to June 20 in Toms River, taught students a wide range of hands-on skills and basic industry knowledge, including arc welding, welding fabrication, blueprint reading, resume writing and job search skills.
The students – hailing from towns such as Middletown, Red Bank, Freehold, Neptune City, Holmdel and Brick – also participated in site visits to area businesses, interviewed with local employers and sat for an American Welding Society certification exam, getting a jump-start on their job search before completing the program this month.
During a graduation ceremony held at Brookdale’s Lincroft campus on June 22, Brookdale Business Training Manager James McCarthy announced that two of the 20 graduates had already been hired by a manufacturing company in Lakewood, and several others would be interviewing with an international equipment supplier in Marlton the following week.
“Word has spread and companies have been approaching us asking to interview our students,” McCarthy said. “We are well on our way to 100 percent job placement.”
The training program, funded by a national emergency grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, was designed to address a growing manufacturing skills gap in the Garden State while providing unemployed residents with the skills and tools to start a promising new career.
For local workers like Matthew Dolansky, the program did just that. A former general contractor, Dolansky said he was frustrated by the inconsistency in the construction industry, where he could have reliable work for months at a time then suddenly find himself out of a job. On the advice of a friend he began looking into the welding industry and heard about the free training program.
“I love it. I absolutely love it,” said Dolansky, of Middletown. “It’s different, but I took a liking to welding immediately. I like the design aspect of it, being able to put together a bunch of seemingly random pieces of metal and creating something out of it. It’s extremely gratifying.
“I was looking for more of a career than a job, and I feel like this has opened up a lot more possibilities for me,” added Dolansky. “There is a ton of opportunity out there. This has opened a few doors for me, not just one.”
Those sentiments were shared by most of the graduating class, whose members ranged in age from mid-20’s to 50 and beyond.
Some graduates, like Freehold resident and former truck owner-operator Scott Shubeck, were looking to put their professional skills to use in a new, growing career field. Others, like Holmdel resident and former financial sales executive Vincent Marzocca, were simply looking for a change.
After years of cross-country travel and long periods spent away from his family, Marzocca said he began working in construction to remain closer to home. The idea of becoming a welder never crossed his mind, he said, until he learned about the training program.
“I thought, why not give it a shot,” he said. “At first it’s a daunting task. It’s a new skill that you need to practice over and over and over again. As you get more comfortable, the better you become and the better you feel about it. It’s actually pretty satisfying. It’s kind of like riding a bike on your own for the first time. You’re like, ‘Wow, I can do this.'”
Today Marzocca is planning to apply for work with area trade unions, where he will have the opportunity to satisfy his creative impulses and earn a living without the need for week-long business trips across the country.
“It’s very satisfying to be able to create something with my hands and see the final product,” he said. “It’s kind of a perfect marriage for me. I plan on continuing my education and getting as many certifications as I can. There are work opportunities all over New Jersey, so I’m very excited to get to work and to start a career that will keep me close to home.”
According to McCarthy, one of the primary goals of the training program is to keep both workers and jobs in New Jersey. The program, much like a similar welding training program run by Brookdale last summer, was designed to fill the needs of area employers and continue growing a trained, certified manufacturing workforce in the Garden State.
“As the baby boomers retire, our country is on the verge of losing our skill base,” McCarthy said. “The average welder is between 50 and 55 years old, and the average instructor is a bit older than that. That’s why we felt this program is so important for our residents, our businesses and our communities, and we could not be prouder of the students we have graduating today.”
Also on hand to congratulate the graduates were: Brookdale President Dr. Maureen Murphy; Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley; Brookdale Associate Vice President of Continuing and Professional Studies Marie Lucier-Woodruff; OCC Assistant Vice President of Continuing Education, Workforce Development and Community Relations Patricia Fenn; OCC Manager of Business Engagement Michael Forcella; John Radvany, Ready to Work program coordinator for New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, which supported the training program; and Raymond Vaccari, director of the ManufactureNJ Talent Network.
To learn more about Brookdale’s career training programs click here.
Check out more photos of the graduation ceremony here.