Here’s How This Outfitted Mobile Unit Aims to Connect Newark Residents to Jobs

“It’s a great idea for us in the city of Newark,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said on Monday standing near the new mobile unit parked outside Pennington Court in the East Ward. “This is a gem. It gives the residents an opportunity to continue looking for services and having an opportunity to find jobs and look for other things for themselves and their family right in their own neighborhood.” 

The mobile unit comes to Newark at a time when many residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are actively seeking work. In 2020, about 16,000 residents lost their jobs between February and May due to the pandemic as businesses citywide were forced to either shutter their doors or cut back staff for extended periods of time. At the height of the pandemic, Newark’s unemployment rate rose to about 19%. Today, the city’s unemployment rate still hovers around 10%. 

With the newly launched mobile unit now ready to roll into any of the five wards wherever it's needed, Baraka said the vehicle will be important for a handful of reasons.

For many residents, the mayor said, trekking to the city’s Office of Employment & Training downtown presents several obstacles such as transportation and getting any information needed to access resources at City Hall.

The mayor also noted that during the pandemic, many city offices, including Employment & Training, were closed, making it difficult for residents to access opportunities and resources to obtain employment assistance. 

Having a mobile unit pull up directly to residents’ homes could alleviate those challenges, the mayor said. 

“They can come right downstairs on their own block, in their own community, on their own street,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s a novel idea.” 

Inside the NewarkWOW mobile unit, a row of computer monitors are stationed on both sides of the vehicle for users to access a network of training services where transport workforce professionals will be on-hand for assistance. Other notable specs include a large screen and intercom system readily available for users to conduct presentations. At the front of the vehicle, the driver’s cockpit is equipped to turn the seats around and serve as an interview space. 

Various services planned to be provided on the unit include job placement; vocational and occupational training for adults and youth aged 16 and older; work readiness and life skills training; adult basic education training and high school equivalency; career counseling; summer youth employment opportunities; and supportive services and resource information.

Bringing an outfitted mobile job unit equipped with technology and professional personnel to the city didn’t just happen overnight though. 

The idea for the initiative was an idea spearheaded by Rahaman Muhammad, deputy mayor for the office of Employment & Training, nearly eight years ago. 

“I was trying to find another way that we could get services directly to individuals,” Muhammad told TAPinto Newark. “We got corners and streets where people congregate, so let’s go to those places where they congregate. They always say there are no opportunities. Well, here’s an opportunity.”

When he first broached the idea to the city, Muhammad said that he was provided a small van to utilize as a mobile job training unit. The unit soon became a heavily requested resource from residents, Muhammad said. 

As popularity of the initiative grew, demand for the mobile unit quickly outgrew, the deputy mayor knew it wasn’t enough. For years, he pushed ahead to secure funding for the idea.

Rutherford-based development group Morris Companies contributed $300,000 to help fund the mobile unit. The development group has undertaken multiple projects in Newark, including a warehouse on Doremus Avenue

Keith Morris, vice president and general counsel at Morris Companies, said that oftentimes a lack of accessible training resources for residents could make it difficult to get the labor the developer needed for Newark area projects. 

Working with Muhammad and the city to find ways to increase accessible training resources, the company was in strong support of the mobile unit initiative. 

“It’s amazing to actually see this bus and see it all come to fruition,” said Morris. “I think this is a great start to getting access to jobs for Newark residents.” 

The Newark Workforce Development Board donated the vehicle to the city. Additionally, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development provided funding for the onboard technology for the vehicle. 

NewarkWOW will travel throughout the city’s five wards Monday to Friday. It will occasionally be available for special events on weekends, weather permitting, according to officials. Area companies and businesses are planned to team up with the mobile unit initiative to provide employment opportunities and resources for residents as well. 

A weekly schedule will be posted on the city’s social media platforms and two workforce websites: www.newarknjworks.org and www.nlwdb.org.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-11-30 03:16:40 -0800