NJ inspires interest in environmental careers while promoting DEI

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TRENTON, NJ — The Department of Environmental Protection has launched a pilot workforce development program to help the state of New Jersey develop the next generation of environmental protection, conservation and stewardship leaders while also providing an avenue for young adults from open space–constrained communities to engage with nature as they provide valuable stewardship services to the public through seasonal jobs at NJDEP. NJDEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette launched the inaugural program in summer 2021 and is expanding its reach this year with a cohort of young adults from three of New Jersey’s urban centers.

DEP’s 2022 Youth Inclusion Initiative is born of a partnership with Groundwork Elizabeth, Rutgers University–Camden and Newark’s Ironbound Community Corp. to create a workforce development curriculum for people ages 17 to 24. This year’s cohort will learn and undertake work across sectors regulated by NJDEP, including water quality, air quality and public lands management. The curriculum will provide valuable information about careers in environmental protection and help participants develop the skills necessary to pursue those career paths in New Jersey.

“DEP’s Youth Inclusion Initiative is built to inform and inspire the next generation of leaders by introducing them to careers in public service where they can build lifelong connections to their environment while being compensated for their work protecting natural resources within their communities,” LaTourette said. “Programs like this help to build a pipeline of environmental professionals from diverse backgrounds who will be ready and excited to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.”

“Our hope is that this eight-week program will inspire these young adults to a career in the environmental field,” said Elizabeth Dragon, assistant commissioner for community investment and economic revitalization. “Participants will have the unique opportunity to exposure and engagement in a variety of environmental topics and careers.”

NJDEP launched the initiative as part of the New Jersey State Park Service Workforce Development Program, in which participants learn about New Jersey’s great outdoors, and work on marking and maintaining nature trails, providing assistance to visitors, helping to deliver nature programs and assisting in making improvements to park amenities. This year, NJDEP has expanded the Youth Inclusion Initiative to provide training and work opportunities in additional areas, including human resources, geographic information systems, water resources, air quality, energy and sustainability, land management, parks, forestry, wildlife, and waste management.

Participants began the summer initiative on July 5 with a week of orientation classes. They are now spending six weeks learning about different DEP programs and will wrap the eighth and final week with individual and group projects and presentations. The program closes on Aug. 26. Groundwork Elizabeth sent 12 participants to this year’s program; Rutgers University–Camden and the Ironbound Community Corp. each sent 10.

Groundwork Elizabeth is an outgrowth of the Groundwork program founded in England in 1979 to involve the community, public and private sectors in addressing urban community challenges. Groundwork Elizabeth does this by promoting economic and social well-being in the Elizabeth area through several community-based partnerships to empower residents, businesses, educational institutions and other organizations that work to improve quality of life.

“Groundwork Elizabeth and the housing authority of the city of Elizabeth are thrilled to be participating in the DEP youth inclusive initiative. No one in our community is more affected by environmental injustice than the youth residents of the Housing Authority,” said Jackie Park Albaum, director of urban agriculture. “Living in a formerly redlined community, our youth are more likely to have asthma at an early age, exhibit a higher percentage of heart disease than the New Jersey average, and live in multigenerational families living at or below the property line. This program creates opportunities for our youth to immerse themselves in the work of the NJDEP and prepares them to lead the changes desperately needed in our community.”

Photos Courtesy of NJDEP