By Michele Siekerka
New Jersey has a critical skills gap that is leaving good-paying jobs unfilled, while the growing demand for career and technical education far exceeds space available for interested students.
But we now have a great opportunity to help bridge that disconnect.
The Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act will provide $350 million for much-needed expansion of career and technical shops, labs and classrooms at county vocational-technical schools, as well as enhanced security at New Jersey schools. Another $50 million will go toward career and technical education projects at county colleges. The New Jersey Business & Industry Association supports approval of this referendum and is urging the public to vote “Yes” on Public Question No. 1 on Nov. 6.
Why is this capital investment so important?
In New Jersey, manufacturers are telling us there are more than 30,000 unfilled technical jobs.
These are good-paying, career-oriented jobs that are left vacant because the state lacks a technically trained workforce. This lack of availability of skilled workers holds back our economy. If we bring greater investment to our county vocational schools and colleges, we will be able to prepare more young people with the skills, certifications and degrees they need to fill these critical jobs.
Demand is already growing for these educational opportunities that prepare young people for careers that can be launched without a four-year college degree, and without parents and young adults incurring the high cost of postsecondary education and the student-loan debt that comes with it.
Unfortunately, New Jersey county vocational-technical schools had to turn away nearly 17,000 applicants in 2017 because there was not enough capacity at these schools to teach them.
Meanwhile, there has also been an expansion of career-focused programs in New Jersey’s county colleges. Investment in these facilities will help these programs prepare more for rapidly changing careers in some key sectors of the state.
It’s important to remember that technology-driven career programs are expensive. If we can further invest in career and technical education facilities as a countywide service, that will enable colleges and vocational schools to expand their partnerships to better ensure a more strategic and cohesive use of resources for high school and adult students.
The career and technical education portion of the bond money will be used to expand and equip labs and facilities for high-demand programs that address New Jersey’s skills gap in important industries such as manufacturing, logistics and distribution, auto technology, aviation and drone technology, medical technology, welding, construction and clean energy.
A priority will be placed on programs with strong industry and college partnerships that prepare people for in-demand career pathways, and help them earn industry credentials and credits toward college degrees. The grants from the bond act fund would pay for 75 percent of the cost of approved projects at county vocational-technical schools and county colleges. The counties in which the approved projects are located will fund the remaining 25 percent of the cost.
The Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act legislation had bipartisan sponsorship and support. With voter approval of the referendum on Election Day, New Jersey can give students the opportunity to access the education and the hands-on, real-world training they need to succeed. Voter approval will also strengthen our workforce pipeline and help our companies expand.
With such a strong return on this crucial investment, we urge you to vote “Yes” on Public Question No. 1.