In 1791, the Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures was formed in Paterson, New Jersey, to take advantage of the power generated by the Great Falls of the Passaic River and enable the United States to increase its domestic manufacturing capabilities. A natural energy source, the 77-foot-tall, 280-foot-wide waterfall led to the development of numerous textile, firearms, silk, and locomotive manufacturing facilities and mills, making Paterson one of the first industrial centers in the country.
Paterson’s industrial boom brought an influx of immigrants from around the world who came to work and make a new life in a country offering endless opportunities. Today, Paterson still attracts immigrants from around the world. In fact, of its more than 145,000 residents, slightly more than 50 percent are Hispanic, coming to the United States from a variety of Central and South American countries.
While the city is proud of its multicultural heritage, it is its diverse population that presents one of its biggest challenges. Paterson’s immigrant community, especially Hispanics, experiences high unemployment, low educational attainment, and low English proficiency, making it particularly difficult for this population to find and keep meaningful employment in a knowledge-based economy. The Passaic County Community College (PCCC) is working in coordination with community partners to change this situation.
With the help of a $597,035 Hispanic-Serving Institutions Assisting Communities (HSIAC) program grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Office of University Partnerships (OUP), PCCC supports its New Skills for a Digital Economy Program. The program provides low-income Hispanic residents and businesses in Paterson with the technology skills needed to succeed in today’s information-based economy. Through its project, PCCC implements:
- Business/technology training for Hispanic businesses and entrepreneurs.
- An afterschool multimedia training program for Hispanic children.
- An English as a Second Language (ESL) and technology skills training program.
Each of these activities is offered at PCCC’s technology hub, the Paterson Community Technology Center (PCTC), which offers several computer-equipped classrooms and computer classes.
Technology: The Tool of Every Trade
For most businesses, technology is integral to everyday operations. Computers are used to manage inventory and finances, coordinate marketing, and communicate with colleagues, customers, and vendors. However, according to the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, most Hispanic-owned businesses do not take advantage of the efficiencies technology offers.
In coordination with their community partners—the William Paterson Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Union County Economic Development Corporation—PCCC offers a range of workshops each month at PCTC. Offered in English and Spanish, the workshops cover business topics such as incorporation, accounting, and developing a business plan.
Technology is implicit in each workshop, yet content is targeted to meet the needs of novice users. Basic classes teach participants how to use the Internet to access business information. Participants interested in advancing their skills can enroll in Microsoft Word, Excel, and Publisher workshops, as well as a Quicken accounting software class.
The response for the business training has surpassed initial expectations. By partnering with the SBDC, PCCC was able to increase the number of business workshops from 12 to 82 during the first part of the grant, helping 69 business owners and 193 entrepreneurs achieve greater efficiency and success.
PCCC is now beginning the second phase of its business and technology strategy, providing one-on-one targeted technical assistance to business participants who attended 30 hours or more of training. Business and computer information science students will be paired with businesses to help them address identified needs. For example, the owner of a local restaurant recently expressed a desire to increase lunch business by distributing a daily menu by fax to area businesses. To help the owner accomplish this goal, the program will team a computer science student with the owner to design the menu template and assist in creating a faxing database.
Learning the Language and Technology at Once
A needs assessment conducted by PCCC revealed that few nonprofit ESL providers in Paterson incorporate technology into their curricula. To assist providers, PCCC initially held onsite training for ESL trainers at PCTC. However, several providers found it difficult to offer these professional development sessions to their trainers. To overcome this hurdle, PCCC created a DVD that teaches trainers how to incorporate ESL for citizenship and technology into their classes.
“The DVD allows the trainers to learn by watching instead of coming on site,” said Gaby Rinkerman, director of PCTC. “PCCC is also working with the Paterson School District to conduct professional development workshops on integrating technology into the teaching of ESL. Using technology in the teaching of language has many advantages. There is an incredible number of free resources for students on the Internet, and tools, such as e-mail, help students with low English proficiency improve their skills.”
Technology is here to stay, and to achieve greater academic and career success, it is imperative to possess solid technology skills. To equip young people with strong technology skills, PCCC established the Silk City Media Workshop to build area youth’s technology and academic skills by capturing their excitement about technology early on.
The Silk City Media Workshop is open to youth ages 11 to 13 who attend partner afterschool programs. Offered once a week for 10 weeks,
the sessions encourage students to develop and produce their own film, music video, or photography projects. During the multimedia classes, students learn how to write their own storyboards, capture and locate film images, create and add sound to their productions, and edit their mini-films. At the end of a session, students participate in a mini-film festival where each student receives an award. The best films are then honored at a larger ceremony once a year.
To date, 165 youth have participated in PCCC’s multimedia classes. The students’ positive response led PCCC to add other offerings such as Photobus, a program for students taking the bus to capture digital images of the world round them, and Write On Sports, a program that pairs students with a retired sports journalist to develop sports articles and broadcasts.
“The New Skills for a Digital Economy Program intentionally incorporates and teaches technology skills,” said Rinkerman. “All participants, whether enrolled in a business planning session, receiving training for ESL trainers, or directing their own films, have access to the latest technology, equipment, programming, and training. This gives them the means to develop skills they need to better navigate and succeed in today’s digital economy.”
|For more information on PCCC’s New Skills for a Digital Economy Program, contact:|
Gaby Rinkerman, Director
Paterson Community Technology Center
Passaic County Community College
One College Boulevard Paterson, NJ 07505