While most college career centers strictly serve their student populations, Union Community College today unveiled a one-stop career portal for students, county residents and local businesses at its Elizabeth campus.
"Everything now is about growing the economy, and I think the local key to that is community colleges," said Margaret McMenamin, president of UCC. "As a college, we want to help our students become better prepared … but we can't ignore the economic development going on in Elizabeth, and the fact that their parents need jobs. We're not doing our job as a community college if we're not helping our students and people in the community get jobs and prepare for their careers."
McMenamin initially formed the concept of connecting workers to jobs — and businesses to a well-trained, educated work force — through a portal on first floor of the college's Elizabeth I. Kellogg Building last fall, but it wasn't until Union's freeholder chairman, Alexander Mirabella, launched a "Union County Means Business" initiative in January that her idea started to come to life.
According to McMenamin, UCC has offered GED, English as a second language and customized job training programs to residents for several years, but its career-specific services for students never had a focal point.
"People from across multiple divisions of the college will be linking arms internally to provide seamless services," McMenamin said. "I don't want individuals being given the bureaucratic runaround with staff, saying, 'Oh, that's not my department.' How I present this concept internally is that this is everybody's job."
Aside from intertwining academic departments to support career development, UCC's Career Services Center has formed partnerships with the Elizabeth Development Co., UCEDC, Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce and Suburban Chamber of Commerce — and McMenamin is currently working on an arrangement with Union County's Workforce Investment Board.
While the center itself is limited in resources, McMenamin said everything related to economic development, employment and work force education "will be funneled through this portal, and nothing will fall off the table."
"If Wakefern (Food Corp.) opens a new distribution center in Elizabeth and says it needs 150 work-ready employees with a certain set of skills, we want to provide them," McMenamin said. "This is not just about our students. There's whole host of individuals who want to work, and another group of businesses and employers who need well-trained employees. If you tell us what you need, we'll find it."
Correction appended: The Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce is among the UCC's Career Services Center's partners. The incorrect chamber was named in an earlier version.