Writer: Esteban Pages
3 min read May 2023 — As New Jersey positions itself as an enticing destination for businesses, public and private sector leaders continue to address the demographic shifts taking place in the Garden State.
New Jersey witnessed a population drop of 5,250 residents between July 2021 and July 2022, however, 11 out of 21 counties reported population growth. The state had a net loss in residents for the second year in a row, as it reportedly lost another 3,728 residents between 2020 and 2021.
Yet, New Jersey remains the most densely populated state in the country, with strong economic fundamentals to attract and retain both its residents and individuals and families from other states. Greater Trenton CEO George Sowa and Augustine Boakye, president of Essex County College, shared their perspectives on workforce development and more.
George Sowa, CEO, Greater Trenton
What is the city’s approach to bolstering the workforce?
Both the quality and quantity of the workforce are vital. We have workforce training programs available in Trenton and being located here means you qualify for benefits that other cities do not. We need to make sure that people are aware of those programs and are taking advantage of them. At the same time, we are working with local colleges and universities which have the ability to tailor a program to a specific industry and/or company. This can help provide significant training on equipment that a company may provide. Students get the benefit of learning on the latest, best equipment, while providing the company with work-ready college graduates. It’s a nice nexus of technology, workforce skills and helping businesses and employees.
To ensure we provide opportunities for Trentonians, we secured nearly $100,000 for a program in conjunction with Princeton University and Trenton High School where we provide funding for students in architecture. The program is called ArcPrep and our funding supports 15 students per semester to get architectural training. Princeton University staff teaches the students how to use CAD design and at the end of the semester, students make a presentation based on their design and talk about what they learned. It’s a tremendous program. Our funding also supports a program that trains students to become steam boiler operators and have a trade upon graduating from high school. Not everyone wants to go to college and it’s a great trade.
Augustine Boakye, President, Essex County College
What are your priorities in terms of emphasizing the county’s need for workforce development programs?
Essex County College has one of the strongest workforce development programs in the state of New Jersey. On our campus, we provide Certified Nursing Assistants, Certified Medical Assistants, Phlebotomy, Community Health Workers, Supply Chain Management, IT Fundamentals, Bookkeeping, Real Estate and many more. Our priority is to cater to the needs of employers by preparing individuals with marketable skills. Our customized short-term programs are designed to accommodate all learners, especially the adult population. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Essex County College’s gymnasium was used as a county testing and vaccination center where our nursing students and faculty served the community as facilitators. This effort attracted Vice President Kamala Harris to our campus in appreciation of our role in the fight against the pandemic.
Our institution prides itself as the best educational and training institution in the county. We provide access to higher education that is affordable and customized to fit the demands of our residents.
What are some of the most common concerns among the business community in Trenton that you are trying to tackle?
Sowa: A lot of it is communication and perception issues that we need to address by making sure people are informed, engaged and feeling connected. A lot of what we do is outreach to the business community and making sure they have opportunities to meet with the administration, council members and other businesses for B2B opportunities and networking purposes. We make these kinds of introductions. It’s about being out in front, engaging, introducing and doing all the things that come along with that.
What is your institution doing to capitalize on opportunities and tackle challenges?
Boakye: Essex County College prides itself as the best educational and training institution in the county. We provide access to higher education that is affordable and customized to fit the demands of our residents. Additionally, ECC is located in the state’s largest city which hosts major corporations that make up the Newark City Learning Collaboration and ANCHOR Programs. Corporate representatives serve on our Advisory Boards and support our curriculum development processes. Most of the people who are attracted to the College live in the community, work in the community and spend in the community. The College serves as a center to solve socio-economic issues in the community including social mobility, equity, mitigating food insecurity challenges and engaging in skill development.
Our college is helping the county resolve the equity gap by accelerating learning through our high school dual enrollment and summer youth programs for ages 11 – 17.
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