Happy Endings for NJ's Unemployed: Grant-Funded Training Courses Provide Practical Skills & New Opportunities

Photo shows students in the Rutgers Professional Golf Turf Management School's Three-Week Preparatory Short Course learn about good golf course design in the field from legendary architect, Stephen Kay, at the Rutgers University Golf Course.

The first part of Sergio Sosa’s story is far too familiar: the Union City resident was inches away from earning his Master’s degree in Biology from Rutgers, and was transitioning from full-time student to full-time assistant-in-training at a golf course. Just when he thought everything was falling into place, Sosa was laid off from his job in late 2012.

Yet by March 2013, Sosa (with degree in hand) was gainfully employed as Assistant Superintendent at two popular New York City-owned golf courses.

Sosa credits the Rutgers Office of Continuing Professional Education (OCPE) and a grant from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOL) for helping him get there.

Rutgers OCPE is working to create more happy – and speedy – endings like Sosa’s by providing training programs that help people get the skills they need to find jobs. In fact, he is among the first students to take advantage of one of several Rutgers OCPE programs newly approved for DOL One-Stop Career Center funding. His success provides a great illustration of the system in action.

Located throughout the state, One-Stop Career Centers offer a variety of free services, including those that help residents secure employment or the skills necessary to compete in today’s work environment.

“The majority of people who come to us are laid off and seeking assistance in their job search, or looking to upgrade their skills so they can be marketable,” explained Steven Smith, Director of the Hudson County One-Stop Career Center in Union City, which serves an average of 2,000 people each quarter. “We help them make a plan and then get there. For occupations where labor is in demand, we are able to provide training grants.”

Sergio went to the Union City One-Stop office in December and was referred to a workforce development counselor. From there he searched a database of approved training programs and was pleased to see Rutgers OCPE’s Professional Golf Turf Management School: Three-Week Preparatory Short Course on the list. “I knew about the Turf School because I had worked with some of the people involved when I was a Master’s student,” he said. “I knew it would be a perfect match.”

In January, Sosa took the three-week course, which teaches the basics of turfgrass science and golf course maintenance.

“I was familiar with some types of turf, but the course was specific to species used in the Northeast,” said Sosa, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Louisiana State University. “It also reviewed machinery and tools. I’m a plant guy – I’m not mechanically inclined, so that part really helped me.”

More importantly, Sosa believes it helped him land his new job at Pelham Bay and Split Rock golf courses in the Bronx, NY.
Photo of Sergio Sosa
“All that information was fresh in my head when I went to interviews,” he said. “I was able to think of questions to ask the superintendents that were interviewing me, and I was able to answer most of the questions they were asking.”

Because Sosa found employment within an allotted timeframe, his turf course has been paid for completely by One-Stop funding. Today he supervises a staff of six groundskeepers for the adjacent Pelham Bay and Split Rock properties, which together host approximately 80,000 rounds of golf per year.

“I like the fact that Sergio had an advanced education,” said Todd Zook, Golf Course Superintendent for Pelham Bay and Split Rock. “It isn't necessary, but it shows me that he set a goal, started it and completed it, and that he has a real interest in this field. His recent graduation also means that he has been exposed to newer diseases and research.”

Like the Golf Turf Management course, all of the Rutgers OCPE One-Stop approved programs include hands-on training that teaches practical skills in high-demand occupations. Currently, students can choose from 11 certificate programs in fields ranging from landscaping to wetland delineation, environmental health to radon mitigation, and others.

“We chose current Rutgers OCPE programs that we thought would be helpful for people who were changing careers,” noted Program Coordinator Joe Canzano. “While we cannot guarantee that the student will get a job, we can guarantee that they will gain practical skills and knowledge in a particular area.”

Canzano added that he hopes more people will learn about One-Stop grant opportunities. “This funding exists not only for our programs but for many others,” he said. “The career counselors genuinely want to see people get work, and we are pleased to support that happening.”

-- Sandy Crisafulli

Photo 1 Caption: Students in the Rutgers Professional Golf Turf Management School: Three-Week Preparatory Short Course learn about good golf course design in the field from legendary architect, Stephen Kay, at the Rutgers University Golf Course.
Photo 2 Caption: Less than two months after completing the Three-Week Turf Management Short Course, Sergio Sosa landed a job as an Assistant Superintendent on two golf courses in the Bronx, NY.
Photo Credit: Casey Sky Noon, Rutgers OCPE
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