The Somerset County Business Partnership hosted a historic event on June 20th, 2018. A panel of distinguished higher education leaders highlighted the resources they have available to Somerset County's business community for student engagement, program support, and strategic research.
The panel included representatives from Raritan Valley Community College, Rutgers University, NJIT, and Princeton University.
Creating vibrant connections between higher education and the business community has shown to yield very positive results that benefit the community for years to come.
As the Somerset County Business Partnership and other officials have studied economic recovery since the Great Recession of 2008, one fact emerged that could not be ignored: States such as Massachusetts and New York that have fostered a strong connection between business and higher education have made the swiftest and strongest recoveries, according to the partnership's president and chief executive officer, Michael Kerwin.
To duplicate the success of these states, the business partnership has been working with Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC), New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT),Rutgers University and Princeton University to identify ways that industry and corporations can work closely with institutions of higher learning. Former Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer said these discussions began in earnest last year and have been very productive.
To illustrate the strength of such connections and encourage more businesses to take advantage of them, the Somerset County Business Partnership recently sponsored a meeting at Duke Farms in Hillsborough. RVCC President Michael McDonough led a panel discussion with Jamie Testai of Rutgers, Greg Mass and Gail Tenen Spak of NJIT and Coleen Burris of Princeton.
The role of community colleges:
From their inception decades ago, community colleges have been tasked with training students for the workforce, and RVCC has been independently ranked as the best community college in New Jersey by two different organizations.
McDonough explained there has been a paradigm shift in education, with 75 percent of college students no longer being the traditional students who graduate from high school and then automatically spend the next four years in college to get bachelor's degrees.
"We see a reinvention of higher education, a new economy, a shifting workforce," McDonough said. "There is a tremendous gap in this state for middle-level skills. That's where community colleges come in. We need real-time data, we need information from employers and we need to align our programs to the marketplace and industry."
McDonough added, 'We're moving from a degree model to a stackable-credentials model that is competency-based. We also want to recognize older students' experience, especially from the military. Parents are addicted to the baccalaureate model, but that's no longer the only path to economic stability. Did you know that a machinist's starting salary is $90,000?"
By "stackable credentials," McDonough meant that students can come to his school, which services Somerset and Hunterdon counties, learn what they need to learn about their industry to get started, then get a job in the workforce for a time, maybe a few years. Then they come back to school, learn more, then go back out to work at an advanced level.
Higher education and economic development go hand-in-hand because as colleges and universities work together, they support economic growth. They focus on innovation and support entrepreneurs.
"They leave with skill sets to solve your problems," McDonough said.
He added that his college is focused on discovery of new ideas and technologies and their application to the corporate world.
McDonough also discussed how economic development includes diversity. He said that in Somerset County, the demographic profile is "incredibly inclusive," with 51 percent of the population now nonwhite.
For more on Raritan Valley Community College, visit www.raritanval.edu/.
Rutgers has an office devoted to corporate engagement
Jamie Testai works at Rutgers University's office of corporate enagagement, which matches companies to the Rutgers unit that can best meet their needs. The office helps with talent acquisitions — about 20 percent of which are internships, development of courses and business growth.
Testai said that Rutgers supports more than 58,000 jobs, and that more than half-a million alum live in and contribute to New Jersey and its economy.
Testai introduced Janet Jones, an associate in her office, who is organizing a Recruitment Made Easy event on July 18 to help employers make meaningful connections with students and alumni. Testai said that career fairs are fee-based, but all her office's other services are free. Learn more at https://businessportal.rutgers.edu/.
STEM workforce preparation at NJIT
Since the late 19th century, NJIT focus has remained on science, technology, Engineering and Mathematics, known today as STEM. Executive Director of Career Development Services Greg Mass said the majority of the school's students are from and stay in New Jersey, and many are from low-income families. The 1,500 students who graduate each year get one of 160 degrees offered, in the fields of engineering, computer science, business and finance and health sciences.
"They have an incredible work ethic," Mass said. "They are gritty, and love a challenge. For their first destination after graduation, 14 percent go to graduate school, 1 percent go to community or public service, 75 percent looking for a job have one at graduation and six months later, 90 percent will have a job."
Gail Tenen Spak, associate vice president for continuing professional education, said that Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak has created a
"Woz-U" on the NJIT campus to train folks in the middle of their careers on technology. These 12- to 22-week courses bring mid-level managers and others up to date on technological fields that have evolved significantly since they were in school, including such fields such as cyber security, software development and data science.
To learn more about the services at NJIT, contact Mass at 973-596-3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact Spak at 973-596-3063 or email@example.com.
Princeton offers a variety of services
Coleen Burris from Princeton University said business, academia and government have a strong interest in working together. Toward that end, her university's office of corporate engagement will actually devote a liaison staff member to any corporation that seeks help from the university to ensure that the business gets the support it needs.
Some of the services that Princeton University offers include licensing technology developed at the university for corporate use and laboratories available to businesses. On the Route 1 James Forrestal campus, any entrepreneur or start-up can access incubator services and even use the university's help in finding investors. One can also get help with research.
For more information about what Princeton can offer a local business, email Burris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see the panelists' Powerpoint presentations, go to http://www.scbp.org/economic-development/higher-education-and-the-business-community.
Pamela MacKenzie: 908-243-6616; email@example.com