By NJCCVTS Executive Director Judy Savage
Legislative leaders and employers gathered for the NJ Chamber of Commerce first-ever Business Summit agreed that career and technical education is a critical strategy to build the well-prepared workforce that is essential to New Jersey’s economic future.
Speaking to about 500 employers at the forum in Atlantic City, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto pointed to the career and technical education bill package passed last year as a key legislative response to the skills gap plaguing employers and hampering New Jersey’s economic growth.
Many jobs need a special skill set and vocational-technical education is a key component of meeting that need, said Speaker Prieto, but New Jersey has not focused sufficiently on connecting education opportunities with the workforce and preparing young people for well-paying jobs.
The Senate President agreed and said New Jersey must provide options for students to gain skills needed for jobs that do not require a college degree, including opportunities in construction and the skilled trades.
Schools must do more to educate students about potential career pathways, Senator Sweeney said, and not just push every student toward a college program that may not align with their talents and abilities.
Speaker Prieto, who made career and technical a signature issue of his first year as Assembly leader, said the bill package enacted in December made positive steps forward by increasing the focus on career readiness, providing small grants for new career programs, and making it easier for employers to partner with school districts.
The lawmakers credited the NJ Business and Industry Association, the NJ Chamber of Commerce, and the NJ Employer Coalition for Technical Education for making the case to support career and technical education.
But they acknowledged that more should be done to engage employers, increase awareness, and expand access to career and technical education programs.
“Hopefully, we can just keep adding to these accomplishments because this is the future for our state,” the Speaker said. “We must make sure we have the right employees for these jobs.”
Employers can join almost 200 members of the NJ Employer Coalition for Technical Education to voice support for career-focused education and a strong workforce. The Coalition’s goals are to promote career and technical education, engage employers with schools and students, and expand vocational schools and programs to prepare more career-focused, job-ready New Jerseyans.