While it only ran for four months, the unique manufacturing training program held this winter at Brookdale has already made a big difference in the lives of 10 local residents.
The program, which teaches metal fabrication and other in-demand manufacturing skills in a hands-on environment, was geared specifically toward community members who were unemployed and underemployed. More than 70 county residents applied for the program late last year through Monmouth County’s One-Stop Career Center in Eatontown.
This week, the ten local students accepted into the program took and passed their final exams, earning a professional certification from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills. By the time college officials organized a celebratory lunch for the graduates in the Student Learning Center on March 9, three of those 10 already had new jobs or an offer of employment. One graduate couldn’t even attend the ceremony, because he had to report to his first day of work.
“It seems like just yesterday we started this program,” Brookdale Business Training Manager James McCarthy told the graduates. “Now you are all credentialed metalworkers. You have accomplished so much, and we are extremely proud of you all. You are an outstanding group of people.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Joan Scocco, operations manager for Brookdale’s business and community development division, who thanked the graduates and their families for reflecting so well on the college.
“Our mission is provide you with the skills and the certification you need to transform your lives, and to be job-ready. And moments like this are what it’s all about,” Scocco said. “Today we celebrate the end of your journey, and we mark the beginning of a journey to new, better and wonderful successes for you and your family. On behalf of Brookdale I want to congratulate each and every one of you.”
The unique training program was rolled out last year by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and partnering community colleges, with funding from a U.S. Department of Labor grant. Students split their time between the classroom and a very large trailer-based workshop, containing all of the materials and professional grade equipment necessary to become a certified metalworker.
“It’s very hands-on, which is good,” said program graduate Rich Conroy, of Aberdeen. “These aren’t the kinds of things that can be learned just from a book. You need to do them.”
Courses are taught by industry professionals like Conrad Mercurius and David Roper, both of whom were on hand at the luncheon to wish the graduates well.
“I have never had ten out of ten students pass the [final] test. That is huge,” Mercurius said. “I encourage you to treat this as the beginning of a new career. Strive for the top of the ladder in any way that you can. There is a lot more to learn. So keep going.”
The trailer began last year at Raritan Valley Community College, and will now move on to Union County College this summer. In the meantime, supporters like Angela Barens of the One-Stop Career Center and Unnati Patel, program coordinator with the New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, pledged to help the remaining graduates find work as soon as possible.
“We’re not done,” said Barens. “We’re here to do whatever it takes to get you back to work.”
A representative from McIntosh Industries in Hillside, New Jersey, which had hired a number of graduates from last summer’s program, was also on hand to personally discuss job opportunities with the graduates. Following the ceremony, three of the students were invited to formally interview for positions at McIntosh.
For people like Conroy, the end of the program was a welcome new beginning. After years spent as an office worker continually fearing the next layoff, Conroy said he was excited to be starting a career that was much more stable, and much more rewarding.
“Anything that can be outsourced is likely going to be,” he said. “You have to figure out what can’t be outsourced and do that … You need to have your own initiative, but as long as you put the work in, you can learn a lot.”
The entire graduating class was: Sharon Brown, Andrew Cinque, Rich Conroy, Hannah Connors, Adrian Davolos, Sarah Dwight, Steve Freed, Michael Lantier, Marc Lesko, and Steve Little.
Learn more about workforce training opportunities at Brookdale here.
Check out more photos of the ceremony here.