NEW BRUNSWICK — The New Jersey Departments of Labor and Workforce Development and Human Services today hosted a day-long conference to highlight and explore national best practices and strategies for employment and training activities related to the WorkFirst New Jersey Program. The forum was hosted by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, a contracted research partner with LWD. A wide range of national and state experts, public policymakers, and other stakeholders gathered at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick to share their experiences, perspectives, ideas, and suggestions on current and prospective innovative policies within the WorkFirst NJ program. “By working collaboratively, thinking creatively, and challenging the status quo, I firmly believe New Jersey is incredibly equipped to meet the challenges of promoting career opportunities for our WorkFirst New Jersey population and building a strong, competitive workforce in our state,” said Labor Commissioner Aaron R. Fichtner, Ph.D.WorkFirst is the state's welfare-to-work program, emphasizing employment as an important step toward becoming self-sufficient. The goal is to provide life-lasting tools that help people through job training, education, and work activities. Both LWD and DHS play key roles in serving the WorkFirst NJ population. DHS administers the benefits assistance elements, and LWD runs the employment and training programs.“There is such immense value to this ‘meeting of the minds’ because it affirms that our collective efforts in promoting employment and training activities is working and that to remain successful we need to continue studying and learning new approaches and techniques that maximize benefits to clients,” said DHS acting Commissioner Elizabeth Connolly.The state-funded research effort began in June. The project is part of LWD’s ongoing commitment to implement best practices and innovative approaches. Among those innovative approaches, LWD’s Career Connections, a statewide network of high schools, colleges, community organizations, and libraries, that provides jobseekers with reliable, high-quality information to find employment.“If we are to meet the challenge of truly bolstering long-term self-sufficiency for program participants, we must commit to using innovative and forward-thinking strategies. We must be willing to experiment with creative approaches, such as building career pathways, promoting industry-valued credentials and degrees, using two-generation strategies to poverty reduction, and contextualizing basic skills and occupational training,” added Commissioner Fichtner. Recommendations will be outlined in a report at the conclusion of the research period in December.