Nonprofits announce Camden Works, employment initiative they hope will connect city residents to job training — and jobs

Six nonprofits announced Monday they are starting Camden Works, an employment initiative they say will help the city’s residents take part in its economic resurgence.

Representatives from the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, Latin America Economic Development Association, Center for Family Services, Hopeworks and Camden County Workforce Investment Board will serve as managing partners of the program.

Camden Works, a four-year private pilot initiative, is being constructed to fill employment opportunities with Camden residents by streamlining the connection between employers and residents seeking jobs, according to a release. By working with employers and helping residents overcome common barriers to gaining employment, the release said, Camden Works hopes to build pathways for residents to participate in the city’s economic growth.

The impetus for the program came from comments Holtec CEO Kris Singh said to ROI-NJ’s Anjalee Khemlani last fall, when he noted the difficulty of retaining area residents. The comments caused a huge uproar in the community.

Donald Norcross.

Camden Works officials said they recognize the unique composition of the city’s population and that the program is being constructed with wrap-around social services as a core foundational piece of its design. By placing a robust social safety net at the center of the initiative, they said, Camden residents will be enabled to overcome employment barriers.

“There is no shortage of talented and ambitious people in the city of Camden; what has been lacking are the mechanisms to match that talent with employers and training programs that can set them on the path to a rewarding career,” U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) said.

“Because of the unprecedented economic development in the city, many new jobs that have come to Camden are now filled by city residents. This initiative will give us the opportunity to build on that progress.”

Camden Works is being supported by financial partners led by co-chairs George Norcross, chairman of Cooper University Health Care, and Susan Story, CEO and president of American Water Works Inc.

The United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, Wells Fargo, NFI, Conner Strong & Buckelew and the Michaels Organization also are among the initial donors.

The goal of the program will be to place Camden residents in full-time employment. The initiative is designed to evaluate the needs of local companies, recruit candidates, connect candidates to job training programs and then ultimately match candidates with companies that need them. The managing partners also will assist the Camden Business Association to develop a database to identify small businesses and increase local supplier diversity.

Camden County Freeholder Jonathan Young, liaison to the Camden County Workforce Investment Board, said the initiative will enable Camden residents to make those connections and take advantage of the more than 4,600 jobs that have come to Camden since 2013.

Susan Story.

“The services being provided through this program will be a game changer, and the WIB is proud to partner on it,” he said.

The imperative for the commitment of private-sector and philanthropic entities ensures the initiative will be funded privately while working to secure workforce grant funding.

“Camden is American Water’s home, and we are committed to making the community better because we are here,” Story said. “Supporting this new job effort is one more way American Water is working with others in our community to create jobs for local residents as we also strengthen and support education and small business growth in Camden.”

Camden Works will monitor progress of the plan by measuring concrete outcomes like full- and part-time job placement, knowledge, attitude, behaviors and beliefs of job seekers, as well as holding regular meetings with partners to receive ongoing feedback and suggestions for corrective action.

Camden Mayor Frank Moran said the program will aim to connect residents to jobs involving their skillsets.

“For far too long, there was simply no structured, centralized mechanism for them to find each other,” he said. “These six nonprofits with proven track records will leverage their experience to lay the groundwork to further boost local employment, bringing us another step closer to making inclusive prosperity a reality throughout the city.”

The aim of the Camden Works initiative is to further reduce the city’s unemployment and poverty rates by connecting Camden residents from all walks of life with jobs that earn sustainable wages.

Kris Kolluri.

Camden achieved record low unemployment levels in 2019, reaching 6.6%, a 30-year low, but continues to lag behind the state as a whole. The Camden Works program is intended to continue reducing that disparity, while also increasing the share of Camden residents in jobs located in the city.

In August, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership produced a one-stop-shop website in partnership with Hopeworks that provided a single place to find job opportunities. Now, it will be joining in as a partner to build organic job training and workforce investment connections through Camden Works.

Camden city has seen incremental growth on every level when it comes to access and opportunities to employment, whether it comes from the state Department of Labor, U.S. Census Bureau or S&P International. Now, with the launch of Camden Works, that progress will be compounded by focused and strategic training for residents.

Cooper’s Ferry Partnership CEO and President Kris Kolluri said the time is right for the program.

“Camden Works will provide an ideal platform for us to effectively support and reconnect vulnerable populations to job readiness programs,” he said.