Voters Tuesday can take an important step in fixing our economy, improving school safety and protecting our drinking water by approving the bipartisan Securing Our Children’s Future referendum.
As the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, we hear over and again from employers that our state is facing a serious skills gap. In fact, McKinsey & Company’s 2017 report, “Reseeding Our Garden State’s Economic Growth,” identified a shortage of middle-skilled, technically trained workers as one of the biggest drags preventing New Jersey from regaining its former status as an economic powerhouse.
The proposed $500 million Securing Our Children’s Future bond referendum will enable us to make the critical capital investments in career and technical education facilities to prepare young people for well-paying, 21st century careers, while providing school districts with grants for security infrastructure and drinking water improvements. This bond issue is an investment we need to make.
While manufacturers and other employers in fields from health sciences to construction trades to automotive to engine technology cannot find technically skilled people to fill current vacancies and anticipated retirements. Our county vocational-technical schools and county colleges are at capacity.
Last year alone, 17,000 qualified applicants were turned away from county vo-tech programs because there just wasn’t any room for them in the schools. Vo-tech schools receive 2.3 applications for every seat.
Ironically, this comes at a time when there is growing concern about the high cost of a four-year college degree and burdensome student loan debt, and an increasing demand for other educational options. Many young people are looking for family-sustaining careers that can be launched with technical credentials and perhaps an associate’s degree or an industry certificate.
This investment in county vocational schools and county colleges will build the high-tech shops and labs needed to prepare young people with the skills, certifications and degrees needed to fill critical jobs in New Jersey’s emerging and growing industries, like distribution and logistics, health care, advanced manufacturing, construction and clean energy.
It makes sense to fund these projects at the county level, so that regional industry needs can be met and high school students and young adults from all communities can have access to them.
And in order to make the most efficient use of the bond money, a key part of the plan is its focus on the creation of career pathways: Priority for vo-tech grant funding would go to strong partnerships between industry, county vocational schools and colleges that will allow ambitious and energetic young people to earn valuable, stackable credentials and credits towards degrees in high-demand fields as they pursue their career goals.
This is an investment in New Jersey’s future that will pay strong returns as new, higher-earning employees generate more income tax, and companies that see us strengthening the workforce pipeline expand or re-locate here, generating more tax revenue.
New Jersey has been trying to find a way to keep millennials from leaving the state. If New Jersey invests in its future with the bond act and becomes a breeding ground of young, technically skilled workers, it would not only provide jobs and incentives for our young people to stay, but also would attract young people from out of state to move to New Jersey and launch their careers in our growing economy.
This bond issue also addresses two other critical needs: school security and the safety of the drinking water in our schools. The wave of school shootings prompted the Legislature to add funding for school security grants to the bond issue under guidelines to be developed by the state Department of Education.
Furthermore, the bond issue provides funding for grants to directly address the safety of drinking water in the more than 300 New Jersey schools where lead has been discovered in at least one drinking-water outlet.
The Securing Our Children’s Future bond referendum passed the Legislature by a near-unanimous bipartisan vote and has been endorsed by almost every major organization in the state, from the State Chamber of Commerce and the Business and Industry Association to the Building and Construction Trades Council, the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Council of Career and Vocational Technical Schools and the state Association of County Colleges.
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, we urge you to vote yes to invest in the economic future, the safety and the health of our children by supporting the Securing Our Children’s Future bond issue.