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Consortium aims to give Americans training needed to compete for high-skill jobs

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New Jersey Institute of Technology is leading a training consortium that is giving unemployed Americans, permanent residents and veterans the technical skills to enable them to qualify for jobs now being filled by foreign guest workers under the H-1B visa program.

Known as UpSkill, the program is funded by a four-year, $5 million grant awarded to NJIT's continuing professional education program by the U.S. Department of Labor H-1B Technical Skills Training Program.

NJIT is overseeing UpSkill in a partnership with Rutgers–Newark and community colleges in Bergen, Essex, Passaic, Morris and Hudson counties; other partners include the state Department of Labor, trade associations and employers.

Gale Spak, NJIT associate vice president for continuing and distance education, said UpSkill expects to train at least 420 unemployed New Jersey residents who already possess a technical background, but need new skills to get hired. In addition, UpSkill is partnering with AT&T, IBM and a third company, not yet designated, to provide more than 2,000 employees at those companies with the skills they need to advance their careers — thus creating vacancies that might be filled by the displaced workers UpSkill is training.

MORE: Companies need 'access to the very best', critics say H-1B reform will cost American jobs

Spak said UpSkill had trained 95 unemployed men and women in its first year, through April 2013, and some have been hired by Verizon and other companies.

To decide which courses the colleges should offer, "We went to companies and asked them what kinds of jobs their guest workers (on H-1B visas) were doing, so we would know exactly which skills are in demand," she said.

Spak said the program identified 400 courses already being offered by the colleges that meet the program's objectives. Individuals are getting advanced training in IT and the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Courses are being offered in cloud computing, new computer languages and software development for mobile devices.

"This isn't entry-level stuff," Spak said. Rather, it's designed to boost the employment opportunities of those who already have technical backgrounds.

Spak said the guest workers that employers hire through the H-1B visa program "tend to have high levels of skills. We need to bring Americans and permanent residents up to that level: this program addresses displaced workers."

She said NJIT will host an UpSkill workshop Oct. 21 at the campus center on the Newark campus for employers, recruiters and job seekers.

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