To effectively foster social opportunity and a vibrant economy, Trentonians must take an integrated approach to providing job readiness and improved educational attainment for residents of all ages. In doing so, the City of Trenton along with the community – County, school district, and non-profits providing job training services, etc. – must balance two critical needs. The first is an immediate need to address short-term issues and train residents for jobs that are available now. At the same time, any educational strategy must take into consideration what might be demanded in a 21st Century economy and give guidance for how Trenton can position its residents to succeed in a rapidly shifting environment.
This Report lays an adaptive framework that will allow the above-mentioned community institutions that are addressing education and workforce training, to have the tools they need to meet the short- and long-term needs. Education and workforce development stakeholders, in partnership with the City of Trenton, must make improvements in three areas to effectively meet its goals:
Pre-K through 12 Education: expanding the ability of public, private and charter schools to teach students workforce, social, and critical thinking skills including literacy and technology in preparation for post-secondary education and employment
Workforce Development: enhancing the City’s economic stability and prosperity by training people for in-demand occupations that provide clear and coherent career paths and potential for growth while providing residents with the ability to respond to changes in the regional and national economy
Personal Enrichment: improving the opportunities available for the ongoing pursuit of knowledge that enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development
The following background section provides context for understanding this framework. Moreover, this report identifies a series of community-driven goals that will help the City track its progress. The subsequent five strategies are designed to work together to ensure the Trenton community can create high-quality educational, workforce training, and lifelong learning opportunities for all its residents.
The following section is based on the Trenton250 Issues and Opportunities Report, which compiled information from residents, previous plans, stakeholder interviews, and existing conditions analysis conducted by the City and its consultant team. A list of stakeholders interviewed is available in Appendix A of the Issues and Opportunities Report. The following previous plans and studies were reviewed:
Trenton Community Based School Master Plan, 2001
Mercer County Community College Strategic Plan, 2012 - 2013
Trenton Public Schools Long Range Facilities Plan, 2005
TPS Academic Plan, 2015 - 2018
Trenton’s increased prosperity and vibrancy depend in large part on the education and training of its residents. Education (for both youth
) is a powerful force for promoting economic opportunity and growth. Unfortunately, poor performance in Trenton’s schools and limited opportunities for adults to develop occupational skills or participate in lifelong learning activities threaten the viability of Trenton’s future workforce and economy.
Trenton’s public and charter schools lag behind statewide performance statistics, and graduation rates remain considerably lower than that of comparable communities.
Faced with a $19 million budget gap, Trenton Public Schools has recently closed one of its 13 elementary schools and continues to struggle to fund critical capital improvements and academic enrichment programs for its students. This challenge is, in part, due to a dependence on limited State funding.
At the same time, the City of Trenton faces a larger obstacle to educating its residents than many of its wealthier neighbors. The concentration of poverty in Trenton’s public schools makes providing high-quality education to all of its students especially difficult. For example, researchers have found that the single-most powerful predictor of racial gaps in educational achievement is the extent to which students attend schools surrounded by other low-income students.
As such, the City must also work with the understanding that solutions must explore new ways to abate the negative impact of concentrated poverty on students.
Trenton’s adult learners also face challenges in preparing for and accessing jobs. Often, adult learners did not receive a Pre-K through 12 education that equips them with the foundational workforce skills necessary to excel in the workplace. Lack of access to relevant training programs, as well as basic learning tools (e.g., internet access), also significantly limit opportunities for adult learners and job seekers in Trenton to pursue quality jobs. Further, there is no current relevant pipeline to local and regional employers. A very limited linkage exists between Trenton's education institutions and local and regional businesses, hindering the creation of training initiatives that could teach the skills needed by employers.
For Trenton to meet the challenges of an increasingly competitive, globalized and technology-driven economy, workforce stakeholders and the City of Trenton along with Mercer County must invest significantly in educating and training its current and future workforce. To be effective, these investments must align squarely with the needs of local and regional businesses and industries. A proposed Workforce Task Force should analyze data and work closely with relevant employers to understand their hiring and training needs and to identify skills gaps that can be addressed through targeted demand-driven workforce training investments.
As identified in the Economic Development Report, the following industries experienced the largest growth in employment in the combined Mercer/Bucks area from 2002 to 2014 (growth indicated in parentheses):
Management of Companies and Enterprises (139%)
Health Care and Social Assistance (50%)
Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation (38%)
Accommodation and Food Services (33%)
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (21%)
Given their high employment growth rates, these are the industries which Trenton is best positioned to exploit by capturing a portion of this growth and employment for residents – and therefore, workforce training investments should be targeted towards growth industries. Moreover, as the City works to advance economic development in the downtown, neighborhood commercial centers, and in its industrial areas, workforce development strategies must be coordinated with economic development efforts.
The recommendations outlined in this Report create the foundation from which Trenton can build this dynamic, demand-driven workforce system. However, for these efforts to be successful, the City in partnership with the County must first establish a coordinated workforce system with relevant community partners working together, and then target its investments to growing industries.
Trenton is home to many organizations and entrepreneurial businesses that offer a range of programming that can advance personal enrichment for Trentonians. These programs provide residents with multiple opportunities for advancement in academics, health, physical activity, social services, youth development, extracurricular learning, social opportunities, and community development. Advancing and leveraging community facilities and schools as hubs of personal enrichment throughout Trenton’s communities will allow easy access to lifelong learning for all ages. Nonetheless, budget cuts have resulted in a reduction of programming at community facilities, as well as the closure of a number of Trenton’s libraries. By partnering with community organizations and businesses, the City can overcome the gap in funding for services. Moreover, many residents do not have consistent and reliable access to the internet as a source of information in their homes. As a result, residents may not have access to the means for personal enrichment necessary for the creation of a strong economic and cultural hub.
Case Study: Workforce Development in New Jersey
The following is an excerpt from Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Investing in People & Places: Philadelphia’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and provides a background for understanding the approach to workforce development in the State of New Jersey.
The state’s workforce development efforts are coordinated through the Jobs4NJ program, administered by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Jobs4NJ offers employment services for job seekers (including career counseling, adult education, workforce training, and specialized services for veterans, disabled individuals, youth, older workers, and ex-offenders); and for employers (including job training and hiring incentive programs). Information on New Jersey’s workforce initiatives is available at www.jobs4jersey.com.
Recognizing that it is critical to have a fluid statewide workforce system that can respond quickly to the needs of employers and job seekers, the Department has also created Talent Networks, which focus on the specific needs of key industries in the state. The goal of the networks is to connect employers, job seekers, the state's One Stop Career Centers, and educational institutions, in order to help current job seekers develop relevant skills that lead to job opportunities, help employers find qualified employees, and ensure that the state’s residents have access to training and educational opportunities that lead to the jobs of the future.
The mission of each Talent Network is to support the efforts of the workforce development system and educational institutions to prepare workers for opportunities in key industry sectors, serve as the primary workforce contact for the industry sector, and encourage networking between job seekers, employers, and education and training providers. Talent Networks have been established for advanced manufacturing; financial services; health care; life sciences; retail, hospitality, and tourism; technology and entrepreneurship; and transportation, logistics, and distribution. Following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development also established a special Talent Network to focus on New Jersey's economic recovery.
Another New Jersey workforce initiative is the New Jersey Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, which was founded in 2004 by the state’s community colleges to provide coordinated one-stop statewide education and training services to businesses and industries. Its founding was based on the “New Jersey Community Colleges Compact”, an Executive Order signed in 2003 that created a new statewide partnership between the State of New Jersey and its 19 community colleges. The Compact designated New Jersey’s community colleges as the preferred statewide provider of training and workforce development.
Through the Consortium, New Jersey businesses and organizations have one-point access to all of the vast resources of the community colleges, including over 1,700 programs taught by faculty with business and industry experience. With 64 campuses statewide, there is a community college facility within 20 to 25 minutes of where every resident lives or works in the state. Companies can access, develop, and receive workforce education and training for their current and emerging employees. The Consortium can also assist New Jersey businesses and organizations at no cost with the development and submission of NJ customized training grant applications. In addition, the Consortium has entered into an agreement with the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), the State’s premier bachelor and graduate technical university, to provide advanced training for Consortium clients.
Pre-K through 12:
Trenton will have more quality educational opportunities and improved education attainment for students in grades pre-K - 12, improving the performance of Trenton’s full range of educational institutions, including public, private and charter schools
Trenton’s diverse adult residents – including those previously involved in the correctional system- will have access to a wider range of quality jobs and high-demand career pathways
Trenton will provide residents of all ages with opportunities for lifelong learning and personal enrichment
Online Journal of Workforce Education and Development, “Influence of Workforce Education and Development on the Growth of Today’s Economy” (2009) from: http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1034&context=ojwed
According to New Jersey’s 2013-2014 School Performance reports, when compared to peer schools, every school in Trenton, including elementary and middle schools, lags or significantly lags behind statewide statistics in at least two of three indicators: Academic Achievement, College and Career Readiness, and Student Growth. When compared to peer schools, (as defined by schools with similar demographic characteristics, such as the percentage of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, limited English proficiency or special education programs), 71.4 percent are lagging or significantly lagging in academic achievement, 90.5 percent are lagging or significantly lagging in college and career readiness (76.2 percent of TPS schools are in the bottom 19.9th percentile for this metric), and 47.4 percent are lagging or significantly lagging in student growth performance. According to Trenton Public Schools 2015-2018 Academic Plan, just 52.9 percent of high school students graduate, compared to a 60.7 percent graduation rate in New Brunswick and a 67.7 percent graduation rate in Newark. As of 2014, 88.6 percent of students statewide graduate high school.
Reardon, S.F., Robinson, J.P., & Weathers, E.S. (Forthcoming). Patterns and Trends in Racial/Ethnic and Socioeconomic Academic Achievement Gaps. In H. A. Ladd & E. B. Fiske (Eds.), Handbook of Research in Education Finance and Policy (Second ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum.