Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s proposal to expand career and technical education (CTE) opportunities in New Jersey took a major step forward today as the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved a bill to place a $500 million bond act on the general election ballot in November.
The bill, S2293, was approved unanimously by the committee and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
The funds from the bond act would be used to build new facilities, renovate existing buildings and purchase state-of-the-art equipment at county vocational-technical schools and county colleges to provide more career and technical education programs in high-demand industries for New Jersey high school and adult students.
New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools executive director Judy Savage said that the bond act “is a critical investment in New Jersey’s long-term economic growth.
“We are enormously grateful to Senate President Sweeney, to co-prime sponsors Senator Steve Oroho and Senator Robert Gordon from the Manufacturing Caucus, and to co-sponsor Senator Teresa Ruiz for leading the way towards an expansion of CTE in New Jersey,” she said.
“Research studies, surveys, and conversations with New Jersey employers all tell a similar story: There are many well-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing and other growth industries in New Jersey that require training beyond high school, but not necessarily a four-year degree,” said Savage said. “But employers will tell you that they are struggling to fill those jobs. They can’t find qualified candidates.”
New Jersey county vocational-technical school enrollment has increased by more than 34 percent since 2000, yet the schools are still forced to turn away thousands of high school students every year because they do not have the space to accommodate all applicants.
On a statewide average, there are almost 2.3 applicants for every available seat in a county vocational school. Almost 30,000 students applied in 2017, and nearly 17,000 could not be accepted due to program capacity.
“Employers say that today’s workers need technical training as much as they need academics. As one of our district partners told us recently: ‘It doesn’t matter what your business is. If you don’t have people with technical skills, you’re going nowhere,’” Savage said.
“And young people and their parents feel the same way. They understand that technology is constantly evolving, and they want to get a head-start on careers that most of us have not even imagined yet,” she said.
The bill requires that all projects funded through the bond act must align with labor market demands or local economic goals, and that employers must be engaged in this process.