Career Classroom: Experienced professionals can help align career programs with real world

Fabrication Manager Josh Grossman was young when he first started working for Northeast Precast, but he found no shortage of experienced mentors willing to help train and guide him. Their investment in him paid off. Ten years later, Grossman remains a dedicated employee who is now embracing the mentor role himself. One way he does that is by serving on the advisory committee for Cumberland County Technical Education Center’s welding program.

The advisory committee meets just a few times a year — a small commitment on the part of members that has a big impact on the program and the students enrolled. Grossman said members talk about what specific skills they are looking for in employees and what kinds of new equipment the school needs to ensure it is teaching these in-demand skills. In his CCTEC Welding Advisory Committee, current conversations involve incorporating computer-aided drawing, or CAD, into the welding curriculum, as this skill becomes increasingly valuable in the field.

Grossman’s experience is similar to that of many other advisers serving county vocational-technical school programs across New Jersey. John-Paul Couce, who serves on the Allied Health Advisory Board for Sussex County Technical School, said schools that seek input from professionals “bridge the gap” between the classroom and the real world. 

Couce, who is executive director of the Newton Volunteer First Aid & Rescue Squad, helped identify important CPR and First Aid certifications students should work toward to give them a head start in their careers. That resulted in the allied health program obtaining CPR training manikins that the students now use for practice. He said most advisory committees also provide early career assistance by offering mock interviews and resume help, as well as job fairs.

Denise Stanley, co-owner of Quality Automotive in Blairstown, said she volunteers on advisory boards for Warren County Technical School and Warren County Community College to come up with solutions to fill vacant automotive jobs. 

To replenish the employee pipeline, Stanley has first taken a more indirect approach, advocating broadly for the profession. She encourages school administrators and instructors to communicate the complex, technical aspects of automotive jobs to build respect for the industry — especially among parents.

“I hope that parents will see automotive as a fulfilling and profitable option for their children,” she said. 

She noted she would next like to welcome automotive students into her shop to help them further develop their skills and introduce them to what she has found to be a rewarding career.

Joining an advisory committee is often the best way for employers to dip a toe into exploring a partnership with their county vocational-technical school. In many cases, that “dip” leads to a “plunge,” as employers quickly recognize the mutual benefits of supporting students who may someday work beside them.

Grossman’s own experience is a prime example. He was taught by the same teacher with whom he now sits on the Welding Advisory Committee. His own career success has motivated him to take his involvement a step further by helping to run a school-to-work program between his employer, Northeast Precast, and his alma mater, CCTEC.

“There is no doubt that, while the students are training, we get real work out of them,” Grossman said. “And we are training potential future employees. Many students who complete the program satisfactorily are hired later as full-time welders.”

Couce also provides opportunities for students to extend their learning outside of the classroom. As early as freshman year, high school students are invited to shadow members of his squad. He said that,  over time, they begin to take on more responsibilities, gradually advancing their skills.

“It is spectacular, hands-on training for the students,” he said. “They get three to four years of clinical experience, and the community gets well-trained, dedicated emergency personnel. This is especially true in New Jersey, where minors can become officially certified as EMTs as long as they work in tandem with an adult.” 

Grossman said such on-the-job learning experiences have less obvious, but equally important, benefits as well. 

He added: “The students also learn about life. We develop relationships with them, teach them what a real job is like, how important it is to show up on time, work hard, and do a good job.”

Conversation Starter

Learn more about becoming an employer partner to any of New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools. Visit:

This series on education and industry is presented by the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.