Cumberland County Unprecedented Progress In Workforce Education

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Ken Pustizzi 2016This personal commentary is the first in a series of those that will continue in The Grapevine to underscore the positive forces of change that continue to make southern New Jersey an even better place to live.
An opinion from SNJ Today President and Founder Ken Pustizzi.
Our brightest minds become educated and find opportunities in other parts of the country. I heard that 30 years ago and I still hear it today from some of my business constituents. Many people, however, are not familiar with the positive movement occurring to advance the area so that people will learn here and stay here.
There are two major happenings that have the potential to chart a new course for our county. The first begins with the new Cumberland County College president who will be taking office July 1. Dr. Yves Salomon-Fernandez was recruited by a group of community and business leaders because of her ability to be a very dynamic, inspirational leader not only for the College, but our community as well. She is being charged with advancing the County’s economic development objectives as they relate to workforce training and education.
The second is the opening of the new full-time Cumberland County Technical Education Center (CCTEC) this September. It is the newest and most advanced high school in the entire state and is opening right here in Cumberland County!
Not only will it serve as a high school, its intentional and strategic location on the campus of the County’s College will enable the public facility to function beyond the school day.
In collaboration with the College, there Cumberland County residents will be able to access late afternoon and evening adult training in a flexible manner like never before.
The new programs to be offered by CCTEC and the College will offer flexibility so that someone who is working a full-time job can simultaneously learn a new skill or trade to advance in the workforce.
During SNJ Today’s most recently televised Board of Chosen Freeholders Meeting, CCTEC Superintendent Dr. Dina Elliot addressed the Freeholders with information about the many programs being offered by the new school. She also fielded a multitude of questions. The following is what has specifically caught my attention.
The decision-making process for evaluating programs has historically been based on the amount of interest and number of participants in each program as well as existing career opportunities. This, I understand to be the planning process used by most secondary and post-secondary learning institutions. If there are too few enrolled participants, the programs are dropped.
Dr. Elliott, in particular, was questioned on the plumbing program. It is my understanding that currently, at the shared-time CCTEC, there are 15 students enrolled in that program.  What’s eye opening is that in those classes there are only three shared-time high school students training alongside of 12 adults. That’s right — only three high school students are currently enrolled in CCTEC’s plumbing program.
I see this as a serious community awareness issue. I do not see this as only a technical training school issue.
It is not the sole responsibility of CCTEC to promote a singular skill and trade like plumbing. Businesses, workforce development agencies and county leadership in general need to understand future career and employment needs and clearly communicate those opportunities to the general public. You see, if more of our youth decide to apply for that trade or any other, the school then has the ability to reinstitute closed programs at our state-of-the-art facility.
Developing partnership agreements with Cumberland County College, the County’s Center for Workforce Development and other local and state agencies to ensure the new facility provides programs to serve both high school and adult students is where the CCTEC administration needs to stay focused.  They are also simultaneously preparing the school for its Fall opening as they transition to a full-time high school.  These are monumental tasks that will result in county education advancements.
These activities, these significant education changes happening right now have the opportunity to be real game changers for our area. I believe they are only the beginning stages of positive change. I encourage community residents to be patient and well informed as important constructive changes continue. Loud negative attitudes will silence the good ideas, ensure broken spirits and result in more of the status quo.
As long as I am investing in this community, I’ll do my best to encourage its progress. It is only with this progress that we will improve the quality of life in our entire region.