Jim Mahlmann knows a lot about business and the workforce in the 21st century, and one bit of advice he offers everyone is this:
“Technology drives everything today. I don’t care what your company does. Even if you sell insurance, if you don’t have technically-trained people, you’re going nowhere.”
Mahlmann is the managing partner at NetCetra, LLC, a national internet technology company based in Washington State and Toms River.
He is also one of the most active business partners at Ocean County Vocational-Technical School (OCVTS), a founding member of the NJ Employer Coalition for Technical Education, and was recently named chairman of the OCVTS Foundation.
“What I try to bring to the table is my business background,” Mahlmann said. “I know what works in terms of preparing young people for the real world of employment.
“My other goal is to get exposure for the great work going on at our county vocational-technical schools around the state. They are a gold mine for so many industries and a key element in workforce development, but too many people still think they are still just an option for kids who aren’t going to college,” he said.
Mahlmann grew up in northeast New Jersey. A baseball scholarship took him to the University of Minnesota, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in marketing.
His first professional job was in marketing research at General Foods, where he also produced TV commercials. He moved on from food to entertainment, where he was a promotions producer for albums by Bruce Springsteen, Joan Rivers, Cheech and Chong and others (he still gets Christmas cards from Yoko Ono), and other types of productions.
“So I was working with a cooking show in 1994 and the chef asked me if I could design a website for him,” Mahlmann recalled. “This was almost 25 years ago and I didn’t even know what a website was back then. Very few people did. But thanks to my technical training, I knew right away what a powerful marketing tool this could be for all types of businesses.”
Mahlmann created the chef’s site, went to a gourmet food convention to demonstrate it and recruit clients, and NetCetra was born.
He got involved with county vocational-technical schools through his membership in the Monmouth/Ocean Development Council.
“I was really impressed with the county vo-tech schools’ missions, and I thought it would be great to help kids launch careers in what I knew was an emerging field,” Mahlmann said. “But back then, the schools were just offering conventional IT courses. Today, they are have programs in multi-media and sophisticated web site and web design courses, which are what the industry needs.”
For the past seven years, Mahlmann has hired interns each semester from OCVTS and Monmouth County Vocational School District.
“Some of these students arrive so advanced and so obviously talented that you just hope they learn something from you and wish them luck in what you know will be brilliant careers, whether it’s in this industry or in some other field,” he said.
One of his former interns is now a medical doctor, and another is the head of IT at a large financial services firm.
“With other students, what they really need is to gain the confidence to know that yes, they can do this work. The most important thing is that they understand how a real business operates, where there are real deadlines, and consequences for not meeting those deadlines” Mahlmann said.
“And I always encourage them to take other internships in other kinds of companies, because the more experiences they have, the better-prepared they will be for the real world, and the better-prepared they will be to make a decision about the career path that works best for them,” he said.
OCVTS Assistant Superintendent Nancy Weber-Loeffert said Mahlmann’s interest and involvement “has really helped our district think outside the box when it comes to career and technical education.
“Jim’s goals are to let people know how valuable the county vocational-technical school system is, to make sure that the programs we provide meet the needs of our local industries, and to prepare our students for well-paying careers in 21st century jobs,” she said.
Outdated perceptions of how county vocational-technical schools prepare students still exist, Mahlmann said.
“I talk to other business people and I am amazed that so many of them just do not understand the value of CTE and that we have to give students options for the 21st century world of work,” he said.
“To me, it’s all about the future. We have a great brain drain here in New Jersey, with young people moving away for jobs in other states. If we don’t invest in programs that give people the skills they need for successful careers, we all lose,” Mahlmann said.