August 15, 2017

Senate President proposes major bond act to expand county vocational-technical schools

Senate President Steve Sweeney (center) and Senator Bob Gordon (to his right) announce the bond act proposal at a news conference at the State House in Trenton

News release from the Senate Democratic Office:

Senate President announces creation of Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, as businesses cite need for vo-tech aid to address shortage of middle-skilled workers

TRENTON – Citing a statewide shortage of middle-skilled workers needed to spur economic growth, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Bob Gordon today called for the development and passage of a major bond issue to expand and equip New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools.

Senator Sweeney also announced the creation of a Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, chaired by Senator Gordon, and urged the bipartisan panel to make development of a vocational-technical bond issue that meets the needs of New Jersey employers and students one of its top priorities.

News coverage:

NJTV:  Legislators announce creation of manufacturing caucus
Associated Press:  Lawmaker: Proposed Bond Sale Would Benefit Technical Schools
NJSpotlight:  With vo-techs turning away students, lawmakers consider bond issue
Asbury Park Press:  NJ should borrow money for vocational schools, lawmakers say 
NJ.com: Lawmakers call for major expansion of N.J.’s vo-tech schools
The Observer:  NJ Lawmakers Plan to Bond Millions for Vocational Schools
Newsworks:  New Jersey needs more workers with voc-tech training

In addition to Senator Gordon, the bi-partisan Manufacturing Caucus will include Senators Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer), Nellie Pou (D-Passaic), Ron Rice (D-Essex), Steve Oroho (R-Sussex), Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr. (R-Monmouth) and Bob Singer (R-Ocean), and Assembly members Nick Chiaravalotti (D-Hudson), Benji Wimberly (D-Passaic), Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), Adam Taliaferro (D-Gloucester), Anthony Bucco Jr. (R-Morris), Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) and Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R-Burlington).

“Expanding high-quality vocational-technical education is critical to our state’s future economic growth and the prosperity of our workforce,” Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said at a State House news conference.  “Our excellent county vocational-technical schools were forced to turn away 15,500 qualified applicants last year, even though our increasingly high-tech employers have job vacancies they cannot fill due to a shortage of middle-skilled workers.

“That’s why I am pledging today to put a major bond issue for the construction, expansion and equipping of our county vo-tech schools on the November 2018 ballot,” the Senate President said.  “We need to emphasize public-private partnerships that match up our county vo-tech programs with the needs of employers, ensure that our vo-techs share facilities with their county colleges, and provide a seamless transition from vo-tech high schools to two-year and four-year colleges and apprenticeship programs.”

Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic) said the bipartisan Manufacturing Caucus will convene for its first meeting in Paterson next month with the goal of developing a legislative package for consideration in December.

He said there is a clear need for a vocational-technical education bond issue, pointing out that an ongoing shortage of middle-skilled workers has been cited by New Jersey manufacturers, biotech executives and other industry leaders, and by a recent McKinsey & Company report as a major barrier to the state’s future economic growth.

“While New Jersey has one of the most highly educated workforces in the country, the mismatch of middle-skilled workers – those with a vo-tech education and a couple years at a county college – with the jobs that employers need to fill in sectors like high-tech manufacturing, healthcare, construction services and heavy vehicle maintenance is a drag on job creation and economic growth,” said Senator Gordon.

Judy Savage, Executive Director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, welcomed the bond issue, which Senator Sweeney initially discussed at a forum with county vo-tech officials last month.

“Vocational, or career and technical education, is gaining steam across the nation, and the demand is especially intense here in New Jersey,” Ms. Savage said.  “While the demand varies by county and by program, on a statewide average, there are almost 2.4 applicants for every available seat in our schools.  The time is right for a major investment in high quality career and technical education programs, which are provided most cost-effectively at the county level , where students from all local schools can have access to the programs and specialized equipment.”

Dr. John Kennedy, President and CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturers Extension Program, and Melanie Willoughby, Chief Government Affairs Officer for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, welcomed both the promise of increased vocational-technical funding and the upcoming formation of the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus.

“We support the vocational schools and the more involvement and investment we can make the more value they will bring to the critical manufacturing and STEM industries,” said Dr. Kennedy.

“NJBIA supports the funding increase for vocational education in our career and technical high schools, so more students can focus on career readiness,” said Ms. Willoughby.  “Increasing the capacity of our vocational-technical schools means filling more high-demand programs for students to ultimately develop a more skilled workforce in New Jersey.”