MERCER COUNTY: Partnership created to help young workers find jobs

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By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
A federally funded training and employment program will help young adults in Mercer County from poor backgrounds get employed, county officials announced earlier this month.
The Mercer County Youth Career Connection Program aims to get some 80 to 85 people between the ages of 18 and 24 back onto their feet through training, paid internships at various employers for four to six months and, for those who never finished high school, help toward earning an equivalency diploma.
The county has partnered with Mercer County Community College, Isles Inc. and the YWCA Princeton on an initiative that County Executive Brian M. Hughes saw as a priority.
“It’s aimed at people who need training, who need financing during that training and who need an initiative given by the employers to take the other mile,” he said at a Sept. 9 press conference at the county office. “And hopefully, we’ll be able to find them permanent locations after they receive their GED or their job readiness through this program.”
He pointed to the disparity in Trenton, which has a lower high school graduation rate, of roughly 75 percent, compared to more affluent towns such as Princeton and West Windsor of close to 100 percent. He said that although the program would not be aimed at Trenton or any particular town, it would have an effect on the capital city.
“In a nutshell, we will help in getting a GED or high school equivalency or get people ready for work or a college career,” Mr. Hughes said.
One aspect of the program will be to match young people with internships that match their interests through what the county calls a “targeted job development.”
“We have this very interesting diametrically opposed phenomenon in our society,” said Community College President Jianping Wang at the press conference. “On the one hand, we have young people who are willing, able to work but cannot find work. And then on the other, we have employers who are eager to find and ready to employ ready-to-work employees.”
She said she sees her college as playing a role in bridging that gap.
Restaurateur Maurice Hallett, owner of Smokehouse 1911 in downtown Trenton, said at the press conference that he finds it difficult to find qualified employees. He said he looked forward to be involved in the program.
“At the end of the day, if we do our jobs right in this four to six months, I should be able to find some well-trained employees to hire,” he said.
The county has said that, to be eligible, participants have to meet one or more of the following criteria: be high school dropouts; have been in the criminal justice system as a minor or as an adult; have a disability; are pregnant or are parenting or need help to start or finish their education. The program accepts high school graduates who have below ninth-grade-level math and reading skills.
For information, contact the county at (609) 989-6205. 