West Windsor, N.J. – Business leaders from around New Jersey gathered at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) on March 6 for an event that sought to create new partnerships between educational, public and private institutions.
Organized in conjunction with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA), the collaboration operated under the theme of “Building New Jersey’s Future Workforce by Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships.”
“As Mercer prepares its students for the workforce, this conference looks to engage with industry partners to find out how to best prepare them for the future,” according to MCCC President Dr. Jianping Wang.
The day began with a keynote speech by Rashaad Bajwa, President and CEO of Domain Computer Services, located in Cranbury. Bajwa’s relationship with the college began in 2017, when Mercer inaugurated its Domain Tech Academy, an internship that gave MCCC students hands-on experience in computer technology and networking services.
“A lot of businesses don’t think to partner directly with schools to form internship and apprenticeship programs,” Bajwa said. “By working with schools to directly develop curricula, technical and soft skills, businesses can have a direct hand in shaping the workforce to their needs.”
Bajwa added that as the cost of college increases nationwide, students are often forced to take unskilled and underpaid positions to fund their academic pursuits. “But by offering paid internships that develop industry skills, like we did with Domain Tech Academy, students can take roles that align with their career pursuits while staying on track for their educational goals,” Bajwa said.
In addition to Bajwa’s address, the conference included a pair of panel presentations that discussed the potential for innovation in public-private partnerships and the current grant-funded projects implemented by Mercer staff and faculty, as well as comments by Michele Siekerka, President and CEO of NJBIA.
James Maccariella, Professor and Coordinator of Engineering Science and Civil Engineering Technology at Mercer, noted that his department’s partnerships with construction companies allow students to take part in experiential learning to see the hands-on application of engineering principles they learn in the classroom.
While many of Mercer’s programs operate through credit courses, the Siekerka stressed the importance of lifelong learning through career advancement courses at Mercer’s Center for Continuing Studies. “You have to be flexible in today’s workforce to adapt to changing skill requirements,” she said, adding that professional development courses can widen career pathways even after students earn degrees.
“As long as you give them a good wage and good skills, we have a shot at having a strong workforce,” Wang said. “But if your institutions aren’t acting as the engine for our regional economy you will get left behind.”
The first panel was moderated by Sivaraman Anbarasan, Executive Director of NJ Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development. Panel Guests included Dr. Wang; Debbie Hart, President and CEO of BioNJ; Dean J. Paranicas, President and CEO of the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey; and Judy Savage, Executive Director of the NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.
The second panel was moderated by Dr. Mark Harris, Vice President of Finance and Administration at Mercer. Guests included, Charles Haas, Director of the Testing and Learning Centers; Holly Kaiser, Physical Therapy Assistant Program Coordinator and Clinical Coordinator; James Maccariella, Professor and Coordinator of Engineering Science and Civil Engineering Technology; Patrick Natale III, Biology Teaching Assistant and Science Learning Center Coordinator; Richard Porter, Professor of Mathematics; Amy Ricco, Professor and Program Coordinator for Horticulture, Plant Science and Sustainability; Laura A. Sosa, Professor of Economics, Global Business and management; and Steve Voorhees, Associate Professor of Television, Digital Film and New Media.
Thank you to our event partners: Accurate Box Company; Association Master Trust; Celgene Corporation; Domain Computer Services; Falstrom Company; IEW Construction Group; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Investors Bank; New Jersey American Water; New Jersey Business; New Jersey Community College Consortium; New Jersey Institute of Technology; NJM Insurance Group; Opportunity New Jersey; Prager Metis; and T and M Associates.