By Briana Vannozzi
It’s a career leap Stephanie Ramirez says she couldn’t have taken on her own.
“You know, you’re always looking for answers for, what I should do to get better, what I should do to better myself in life, but when you have two kids that depend on you, there’s not much that you can do,” she said.
The mom of two is now employed as a community health worker at Saint Peter’s Family Health Center in New Brunswick. She’s one of the first members to go through the state’s new apprenticeship program. It began with the advent of National Apprenticeship Week. Like building and trades, the labor department realized residents need more pathways to better paying jobs.
“The apprenticeships generally firmly put individuals on a career pathway in an industry like health care so that they can attain, go as high as they want to,” said Catherine Fruge Starghill, deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Now in its second year, this round of the program is geared toward military veterans, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, unemployed youth and other at-risk New Jerseyans. Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations helped create the health care apprenticeship.
“The very first batch of community health workers that we train, many of them are in really successful jobs right now making close to $50,000 to $60,000 a year and they are very happy because they are able to learn,” said Padma Arvind, director of the New Jersey Health Care Talent Development Center.
“It was a good chance to take because sometimes you say I’m too old to go back to school, I’m not going to learn, it’s going to take too much time. They make it easier for me. It was easy,” Ramirez said.
What was more enticing? The opportunity to earn as you learn.
“They do get paid during the period when they are learning. So they are not going through that hardship so they are learning and they are also considered an employee by the organization,” Arvind said.
“I have two jobs right now — I have an internship and I also have a job as a cashier at a fast food restaurant. So both of those things in combination with something that really might impact my future really appeals to me,” said Hitesh Kalluru, senior at Woodbridge Academy Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences.
Once a candidate is selected for the program, employers conduct interviews and choose apprentices for the training. But the learning doesn’t end there.
“We were told that we would be getting anywhere from 20 to 22 college credits. So I have some college credits already so this was extra for me so I can get my degree and pursue another career, which is still around health. I want to be a social worker,” said apprentice Karena Sammon.
Anyone interested should inquire at their county one-stop center. Those centers will help vet the candidates. All the training is free and apprentices are guaranteed a job once they graduate.