Many small businesses throughout New Jersey seek training for their employees to provide them with the skills necessary to effectively and efficiently perform their jobs in today’s ever-changing business environment. Whether employers are looking to improve upon a worker’s computer or customer service skills, or are looking for customized training specific to their needs, there are various options small businesses have in order to meet that demand.
However, the problem is that many of these small businesses do not have the money, time and/or resources to train their employees compared to large corporations. This is where the New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce & Economic Development (Consortium) and the 19 community colleges around the state come into play.
The Consortium aids businesses in tapping into the resources of the community colleges in New Jersey. It provides a “one-stop shop for companies and organizations to access, develop and receive workforce education and training for their current and emerging workforce.” And often times, the education and training offered comes at little or no cost to small businesses, due to the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and statewide grants.
One program available to businesses is the NJBIA Basic Skills Workforce Training Program. Launched in 2007, the program is a partnership between the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, the New Jersey Department of Labor and the state’s community colleges.
“The NJBIA Basic Skills Workforce Training Program is available to any business in the state at no cost to them,” says Sivaraman Anbarasan, executive director of the Consortium. “Ideally, however, this program was aimed towards small businesses that may not have the money and/or the time to spend on training their employees.”
The program covers skills on how to use computer applications such as Windows, the Microsoft Office Suite (Outlook, Excel, Word and PowerPoint) and various other applications. It also provides basic math training, English as a second language, Spanish in the workplace and programs to help improve upon communications skills, (i.e., verbal, writing and customer service).
“These classes can be delivered to any organization and can either be done at the company’s location or through open enrollment at the community college,” says Carol McCormick, senior account executive at the Camden County College (CCC) Corporate Training Institute. “In order for us to come on site, a company needs to have a minimum of 10 individuals to take a specific class and, in many cases, we can customize these classes to provide more of a focus for the particular organization we are training. However, many times, smaller companies only have one or two individuals who need training, so they come visit us and we can train them here.”
The Consortium’s Anbarasan says that since the NJBIA Basic Skills Program began eight years ago, it has served more than 100,000 employees at more than 5,000 companies. And, at least 85 percent of those individuals are employees of small businesses, he says. So, “this program has been vital in aiding those smaller companies, in particular, and helping them get the most out of their workers.”
Passaic-based Falstrom Company has taken advantage of the NJBIA Basic Skills Program multiple times over the past several years. It has used it to train its employees on various computer applications.
“It is much more efficient to provide employees a classroom experience with a knowledgeable instructor where they are away from their work and could solely focus on learning applications such as Microsoft Office and Excel,” says Cliff Lindholm, president and CEO of Falstrom Company. “And, it’s at no cost to us due to state grants and the work of the Consortium, county colleges and NJBIA. There are only operational costs due to paying employees for their time to take the training and other costs associated with them being out of work. However, it has absolutely served us well in improving our employee’s skills and is a great tool for any business looking to do that.”
According to Christine Gillespie, dean of Bergen Community College’s School of Continuing Education, Corporate and Public Sector Training, the need for small businesses to have higher skilled employees, especially ones with “more advanced basic skills,” is vital.
“Many employers, especially those that are smaller, are doing more with less today,” Gillespie says. “Small companies are looking to cross train their employees. They need existing employees to have higher skills and need them to be trained in other areas, so they can become more flexible within the company. … Businesses need to stay up-to-date in today’s marketplace, especially with the way technology is changing and the effect that computers are having on day-to-day business. And for small businesses, this can be no easy task. It is an investment and time consuming. So, along with the other community colleges in the state, we are here as a resource to help them along.”
Community colleges in New Jersey have other various low-cost or grant-funded customized training options for small businesses. The Industry-Business Institute at Union County College, for example, provides customized training solutions to help skill or re-skill current or new employees. These training solutions help improve overall productivity, reduce costs and strengthen the competitiveness of small businesses, according to Lisa Raudelunas Hiscano, director of continuing and professional education at Union County College.
“When we work with a company, we speak with them to discuss their needs and tailor a program to them,” Hiscano says. “Many of these programs are funded by grants from the Department of Labor and other resources. We will let businesses know what is available to them and take care of everything they need to take advantage of them.”
For instance, the Skills4Jersey grant provided by the Department of Labor gives businesses up to $1,000 per trainee to help improve skills. The available courses under this grant run the gamut from accounting, office and time management and team leadership to sales skills, graphic design and culinary arts, to name a few.
“Nothing would make us happier than to spend the money that has been allocated to us for these programs, so our goal is to get more companies and individuals utilizing them,” CCC’s McCormick says. “A lot of times, companies aren’t aware what is available to them or they think these programs are only for businesses that are failing or need help. However, community colleges are here to support every single business in the state – small or large, successful or struggling.”
“There are a countless number of grants and resources available at community colleges that small businesses should want to take advantage of,” BCC’s Gillespie adds. “I encourage them to contact their local community college and the Consortium to help train their employees to meet their business goals and needs. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”