Mercer County Kicks Off Youth Employment Partnership with Help of Princeton Regional Chamber

Kendall Williams (c) and Vincent Harney Jr. check a cooling unit as service manager Eric Muench watches. In background (l-r) Peter Crowley of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, and Princeton Air Conditioning president J. Scott Needham.

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes has announced the start of the Youth Employment Partnership, a pilot initiative in which the county will partner with business, community and faith-based agencies to prepare young adults to enter the workforce.

Participating employers will provide work experiences through internships, while the county’s One-Stop Career Center will provide job readiness and job retention skills to eligible county youth. The initiative will target young adults ages 18 to 21 who are economically disadvantaged.

Hughes made the announcement this week at Princeton Air Conditioning Inc. in West Windsor, where the program’s first two participants, Kendall Williams of Hamilton and Vincent Harney Jr. of Trenton, began six-month paid internships this month. The two interns, who had completed occupational training at Moe Shea Corp. in Trenton and job readiness training at One-Stop, will gain hands-on work experience through job shadowing and mentoring by Princeton Air technicians.

“Employers are looking for applicants who have hands-on work experience, and this program provides that,” Hughes said. “It encourages employers to take a chance on young people seeking to enter the workforce, giving them a better shot at landing a job in their field.”

Williams’ and Harney’s internships at Princeton Air Conditioning were facilitated by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, the County’s first partner in this initiative. Peter Crowley, president and CEO of the Chamber, and J. Scott Needham, president of Princeton Air Conditioning, joined Hughes this week to announce the start of the program.

Officials said the Youth Employment Partnership is being launched in response to employers’ needs to hire young adults who are ready to work, and young adults’ needs to be competitive and attractive to prospective employers given current economic conditions. After completing occupational training, participants enter phase one of the program, where they learn about resume development, interviewing skills, employer expectations and money management. The second phase focuses on job matching, when employers interview and select interns. The third phase is the internships, which are paid for by One-Stop.

Needham said he learned of the program through Crowley, and then met with One-Stop officials to discuss Princeton Air’s possible involvement. Hiring interns who have had occupational and job readiness training, and whose costs are covered is about as risk-free as it gets, Needham said.

“I think the most rewarding thing for me is the hope that I see in their eyes as they show up eager to work every day and the sense of accomplishment they feel as they learn the real-world application of our trade,” he said. “And who knows, at the conclusion of the internship we may have one or two more service technicians proudly knocking on the doors of our many Mercer County customers.”

Williams and Harney said they are thankful for the opportunity to get the type of real-world work experience they’re getting at Princeton Air Conditioning through the program.

“Companies don’t want to hire people without experience,” Williams said. “Because the economy is so bad, why should they hire you when they can find 12 other people with experience? So because of this program, now I’m one of those 12.”

“They say the youth are the future,” Williams said. “But how can we make progress if nobody’s going to let us in?”