Career Classroom: Employment needs drive development of new career-based training programs

Last fall, Ocean County Vocational Technical School launched a two-year heavy equipment operator program for high school students. Only the second program of its kind in the state, the enthusiastic response from industry partners validated the need for this focused training program and others.

Two OCVTS industry partners stretched learning through the summer with on-the-job-training for HEOP students. Such experiences are wins for students, schools and employers.

“These kids have an edge, so we want to invest in them,” said Thomas Eosso, whose family-owned company, Eosso Brothers Paving, took on four of the students this summer. “Our mindset is that we give them a good, valuable experience and they will stay with us.”

Michael Earle, president of Earle Residential-Commercial, hired three OCVTS HEOP students to work with his team on a part-time basis this summer. Earle was an early supporter of HEOP at OCVTS, providing a match for grants that helped get the program off the ground with the purchase of simulators for early training. 

“Our industry should continue looking for ways to partner with vocational-technical schools to create solutions to our workforce needs,” Earle said. “(Employers should) be proactive and get involved to help the younger generation discover their interests, build their skills and create successful careers.”

Another OCVTS partner has already taken those proactive steps to be part of the solution in his industry. John Schleicher, owner of Jersey Shore Plumbing & Design, volunteered to serve on an advisory committee for a new plumbing program starting this fall. As he and the other industry representatives shared their frustrations with finding skilled employees, he became increasingly invested in the success of the program. He applied to be the program’s instructor — and got the job.

“We previously had a plumbing program, but it ended more than five years ago following a decline in enrollment,” OCVTS Curriculum Director Gary MacDonald said. “Our partners in the plumbing industry helped bring it back by stressing the need for this type of training; they said nobody was in the pipeline to take over when current employees leave. With a clear path from the program right to a career, we successfully promoted the program and have a strong enrollment of 20 students starting with us in the fall.”

Just south of OCVTS at Cape May County Technical Schools, two new post-secondary programs will meet workforce demands identified by that district’s industry advisers. Post-secondary carpentry & property management and post-secondary aluminum welding fabrication are both based on Cape May Tech high school offerings, but with additional training deemed valuable to those doing business in the county’s resort communities. 

“By integrating property management with carpentry, we are responding to our regional labor needs,” Nancy Wheeler Driscoll, director of curriculum and instruction at Cape May Tech, said. “Students who complete this program could revitalize and renovate an existing property, perform basic upgrades or repairs on that property or even convert it to rely on green energy. They also could walk away with the skills to start a construction project from scratch, from framing to masonry.”

Students in both new Cape May Tech post-secondary programs will be eligible to earn OSHA certification. Those enrolled in aluminum welding fabrication will cover welding basics plus fabrication — the skills of cutting, bending and assembling shapes that are often needed regionally to repair boat engines or shape frames for canopies on boats or homes.

Stryder Rabender is part of a two-year heavy equipment operator program for high school students with Eosso Brothers Paving. ­

At Hudson County Schools of Technology, a partnership with the Jersey City Employment and Training Program has led to a new certificate program in lead abatement that is currently filling cohorts for four-session trainings. A grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs funds participation in the course for eligible Hudson County applicants, with priority given to minority and Jersey City-based contractors.

Newly signed state legislation calling for the replacement of all lead pipes has accelerated the already-identified need for contractors and their workers to earn Lead Abatement Certification. “Even prior to this legislation, we were aware that few, if any, contractors in our area were certified in lead abatement,” Alicia Abraham, director of career and technical education at Hudson County Schools of Technology, said. “Now, as a partner in this training program, we are building a pool of professionals right here in our county who are capable of and ready to perform this work.”

Additional career-focused programs commencing this year are the Academy of Biological Sciences at Gloucester County Vocational-Technical School District and cybersecurity at Bergen County Technical Schools’ Applied Technology High School. These highlight the diversity of curricular offerings at New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools. And, offerings continue to evolve to match student interest and employer demand beyond the traditional trades to reach just about every industry.

“Up and down the state, New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools play a critical role in responding to their regional workforce needs, whether that’s through new high school, post-secondary or certificate programs,” Michael Dicken, superintendent of Gloucester County Vocational-Technical School District and president of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, said. “Our schools will further increase this level of responsiveness as we approach a period of record growth with support from funding approved this summer through the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act.”

Conversation Starter

Employers can learn more and express interest in partnering with county vocational-technical schools at: