by Melanie Willoughby
Chief Government Affairs Officer
New Jersey Business & Industry Association
In business, results count. So, in describing some of the legislative accomplishments from the previous session, I want to look past what bills were enacted and focus on what these new laws have done. After all, if a new law isn’t effective, getting it enacted isn’t that great of an accomplishment. In the case of the education reforms that we helped put into place, however, those new laws are already making an impact.
Two years ago, NJBIA kicked off the Employer Coalition for Career and Technical Education to infuse our education system with lessons that provide practical business skills that all students will need when they enter the working world. Partnering with the NJ Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, we put together several recommendations for providing high school students with the technical skills and workplace knowledge that they will need to get good jobs and keep them.
Legislators acted quickly, creating a new grant program, requiring schools to include career readiness in their curriculums, and emphasizing career preparation in school evaluations. As a result, students have new educational opportunities in engineering, science, technology, computer programming, public safety and even the culinary arts. They will also find programs that earn them college credits.
The accomplishments are detailed in a report by the coalition www.njbia.org/supportedbills.
One of the new laws created grants to spur the creation of new career programs hosted by colleges, local high schools and other partners. The law was funded with a $3-million appropriation in fiscal years 2015 and 2016. Seven new programs were created.
In Bergen County, students can attend a high school dedicated to technology. Bergen County Technical Schools opened the Applied Technology High School focusing on advanced manufacturing and engineering technology. Partners include private-sector manufacturers Stryker Orthopedics, Triangle Manufacturing and Sandvik Coromant.
Similarly, Mercer County Technical Schools opened a four-year, full-time Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy in partnership with Mercer County Community College. Business partners include KNF Neuberger, Palfinger, Nordson EFD, Lawrence Mold and Tool Corporation and Gaum, Inc.
The changes aren’t just for students at vocational-technical schools. The NJ Department of Education is developing plans to ensure new teachers and counselors understand career and technical education and are well prepared to help students explore career options and build employability skills. The State Board of Education has adopted a set of 12 career-ready practices that all school districts will incorporate into the curriculum. Additionally, annual School Performance reports will measure students’ career readiness, including participation in career and technical education programs and work-based programs such as internships.
After all, employers need graduates who are ready for the working world, regardless of where they come from.
None of this would have happened without the support of Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, who saw to it that these bills received swift approval. Once in place, however, the county vocational-technical schools and private-sector businesses took the new tools they were given and turned them into effective new education programs.
The world’s job market is changing, and businesses need New Jersey’s education system to change with it so they can find workers with the skills they need, not just today, but for tomorrow’s workforce. I’m happy to report that New Jersey is ready to meet the top educational challenge of the 21st century.