Increased employer demand for a highly-trained workforce is driving support for Senate President Steve Sweeney’s proposal for a new bond act to expand career and technical education opportunities in New Jersey.
New Jersey Business & Industry Association annual surveys find that employers cannot find enough workers with the right skills to fill the highly-technical, high-paying jobs they have available.
At the same time, on a statewide average, county vocational-technical high schools currently receive more than two applications for every available seat, and demand is growing in key New Jersey economic sectors like advanced manufacturing, logistics and distribution, engineering technology and aviation.
“We have gotten it wrong educationally,” Senator Sweeney said recently at the Salem County Vocational Technical School Foundation’s annual dinner. “We need to embrace vocational training and we need to expand vocational training.
“We are turning away more than 15,000 kids a year when there are 40,000 jobs each year that go unfilled. That doesn’t work,” he said.
The bond act would help counties build new vocational-technical schools, expand existing facilities and purchase the state-of-the-art equipment needed to train that students for real-world employment.
It would also promote enhanced collaboration between county vocational-technical schools, county colleges and employers, so that more students can attend career-focused high school programs, earn college credits and get work experience – giving students multiple options when they graduate.
Sweeney said the bond act is a priority of the New Jersey Legislature’s Manufacturing Caucus, which is focused on the essential workforce needs of the manufacturing industry, including the biotech, chemical and technology sectors.
“Preparing the middle-skilled workers that businesses need is critical to our future economic growth and our prosperity,” Sweeney said in announcing the bond proposal last year. “That’s why strengthening and expanding our county vocational-technical schools is such an important first step.”
NJCCVTS executive director Judy Savage said that “if New Jersey is serious about creating a stronger workforce, we must make a strategic investment in preparing students for careers as well as college.
“In today’s highly-technical world, everyone is going to need more than a high school diploma. But that could also mean industry certifications or an associate’s degree. The focus of the bond act is to create a system of education and career pathways for students with different goals,” she said.
From the Star Ledger, an op-ed by Senator Sweeney: Vo-Tech schools are key to state’s manufacturing future
From NJTV (video and story): Legislators announce creation of manufacturing caucus
From the Asbury Park Press: NJ should borrow money for vocational schools, lawmakers say
From NJSpotlight: With vo-techs turning away students, lawmakers consider bond act