Why Middlesex leaders feel training programs are key to attraction, retention

Bayada Home Health Care has the same workforce needs as every other business in the state: It needs to figure out how to attract more workers — and do so while retaining the ones it already has.

Alesha McCall, a director who oversees the nursing operations in the North Brunswick office of Bayada — one of Middlesex County’s biggest employers — said attraction and retention solutions are the key to success.

“One of the things that you may not have seen a decade ago, at least from a health care perspective, that we decided to really put emphasis on now is how we screen people in versus screening people out,” she told the crowd. “So, we actually have many different programs.

“We have our residency program for (preparing) nurses out of school. We have our fellowship program. We have our LPN, RN aspire program. So, if you are an LPN and you aspire to be an RN, we have training programs in place for that, too.”

McCall was speaking at a panel discussion during the recent Middlesex County Business Summit at Rutgers University.

She joined the rest of the panel, which felt the county’s diverse workforce — both in ethnicity and education — gave it the ability to fill needed jobs at all levels in the economy. The key, panelists said, is making sure employees get the training they need before and during employment.

No one knows that better than Kevin Duncan, the president of the Middlesex County Building & Construction Trades Council.

Duncan preached that the trades’ many apprenticeship programs not only train workers — they pay them a solid wage while doing so.

“The beauty of it is you’re earning while you’re learning,” he said. “You’re learning a career; you’re learning a craft. As we know, everyone can’t afford college, everyone can’t go to college. It’s a great vehicle that you’re able to earn while you learn.”

Freeholder Director Ronald Rios said solid training benefits everyone.

“Coming from local government, I can tell you how important their apprenticeship programs are,” he said. “Because, in government, we have to go with the lowest responsible bidder. And there’s times that we get the lowest bidder, but that does not mean that that contractors are responsible contractors. And then, what happens is, we may not get the quality work that is done.

“I’ve seen it time and time again coming from local government, where we go with the lowest bidder, and then they don’t do the job the way it should be on the specs. And then they go belly up and then we have to rebid it and it winds up costing us more money.”

What is a fair wage, of course, always is up for debate.

Michele Siekerka, the CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said good training and good wages go hand in hand.

“We did a study at NJBIA on attractability and affordability of postsecondary (residents) in New Jersey — and, while we talk about college and continual learning, we need to look at it a different way, and this idea that the trajectory doesn’t have to be like this,” she said. “You can earn it and learn as you continue along.

“I say all of this because today, right now, right here, we have tens of thousands of vacant jobs and middle-level skill at technical jobs like the trades, and we need to start very early on educating our students, our parents, our guidance counselors and our educators to be cheerleaders for these vocations going forward.

“These vocations pay money that you can live and work and raise a family and stay in New Jersey without blinking an eye. It’s incredible. The opportunities are there. And this is an area of focus that we need as a state and that this region can really benefit from putting your focus on.”

The panelists agreed solid training programs in all sectors and all levels will help attract business to the county.

It certainly helped attract Jason DeBriere, head of research and development and culinary director for Tacombi Taquerias. His company just moved to the county and, so far, he said he likes what he sees.

“The workforce community is very positive for us,” he said. “We found a lot of good employees. Most of them have been with us since Day One. I think It speaks to the fact that we’re trying to create a fair wage. I also really wanted to create a better equity lifestyle for people in the community and we like to promote from within.”

Promotion, Freeholder Kenneth Armwood said, is just one key to the county succeeding. Making sure all the stakeholders are on the same page is another.

“How do you leverage our assets that we have?” he said. “We are uniquely situated here, right at the crossroads of the (New Jersey) Turnpike, the (Garden State) Parkway. We’re near New York City and Philadelphia. How do you leverage that? And then how do you determine what our roles are going to be as far as the county government working with local governance?

“My hometown of Piscataway may not need as many of our resources as (a smaller town, such as) a Milltown or a Dunellen or a Middlesex Borough. So, it’s determining how we work with our local partners. How we work with our local industries. What role do we play? How do we leverage the assets of being the home of the state university, having a great county college, having a great vocational school system. What is our role? I think that’s our challenge going forward.”

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