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In New Jersey, Health Grants Provide Free Training for Low-Income Students

By Reyna Gobel

Program trains out-of-work residents to succeed in high-demand jobs.

The national economy continues to rebound from the Great Recession, but for many local communities lingering unemployment remains a problem.

That’s the case in parts of Morris County, N.J., where administrators at the County College of Morris (CCM) are hoping a new health grants program will help struggling and out-of-work residents land one of the more than 5,000 new health care-related jobs projected to hit the region by 2020.

Jane Ann Armstrong, dean of corporate and community programs at CCM, says the five-year federal Health Professions Pathways Grant program, which provides free job-training services to qualified residents, has already helped more than 600 community members find work in the region’s growing health care and social services industry.

How it works: To qualify for the program, individuals must be on government assistance or meet a certain low-income requirement. The program offers free job training in one of 11 high-demand health career fields. These include such popular career tracks as nursing aides and medical billing and coding specialists. Eligible students who enroll in the program also receive $6 per day for transportation to and from the college. Students can use the money for gas or to pay for public transportation, a benefit Armstrong says is key to ensuring students complete their educations.

Help from industry:  In addition to the services and training provided by the college, the program relies on support from local hospitals and other health care employers. Industry partners provide a range of services, from internships and hands-on training opportunities to facilities to integrated job placement services.

An advisory board of local businesses, created after the program’s first year, helps CCM administrators determine the curriculum and work with students to ensure they leave college with the skills required for long-term employment.

One participating employer, Saint Clare’s Health System, chipped in to provide classroom space for the program as well as externship opportunities for students. Two rooms at the hospital’s Dover, N.J., facility function as fully equipped teaching laboratories for training certified nursing aides. Saint Clare’s also employs some of the program’s graduates.

Training done right: Because many students who participate in the program are out of work, administrators joined with local businesses to develop professional externships (hands-on job training) that can be completed while students are still enrolled in the program. This way, students don’t lose public assistance or transportation funding while gaining needed work experience, says Armstrong.

“As our population in Morris County ages, we need more direct care workers to take care of our residents,” she says, adding, “We are proud that our students can serve the community while regaining employment.”

Looking for ways to help the unemployed in your community find work? Armstrong offers these five tips for administrators considering offering similar programs at their college.

  1. Engage the community. When working with low-income students, always coordinate with community organizations to help students acquire basic resources for survival, such as transportation and clothing, as well as education. For example, CCM partners with Dress for Success, a program that helps low-income residents obtain professional work attire.
  2. Involve employers. When employers feel involved, they’re more likely to agree to help with classroom resources and learning opportunities. Not to mention offer potential jobs and externships for students.
  3. Include networking. Help students find jobs by connecting them with people who know the industry and what’s out there.
  4. Counseling is key. Barbara McShane, CCM learning specialist, keeps in touch with students to discuss ongoing needs, which often come down to basics such as food and childcare.
  5. Learn from other colleges. CCM got the idea for its health-training program from a four-week introductory program at nearby Bergen Community College.

Does your college offer free job-training programs for low-income or unemployed residents? Tells us about it in the Comments.

Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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