A few years ago, policymakers took a hard look at New Jersey’s employment market and saw that businesses were struggling to find workers with the right skills. If things continued this way, New Jersey businesses were going to suffer a major shortage of skilled workers. So the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) began in earnest to bridge the skills gap with the creation of New Jersey’s Talent Networks. Today, the skills gap still exists, but the way New Jersey is addressing it has changed for the better.
The skills gap in business reflects the gap between what is taught in school and the skills employers need their workers to have to compete in a modern global economy. It’s not a lack of quality; by many measures, New Jersey students get an excellent education. But the skills they are taught in the classroom have had increasingly less application in the working world as it becomes more sophisticated and specialized. The Talent Networks connect businesses and educators to help bridge that gap.
Today, the seven networks have collectively partnered with hundreds of businesses throughout the state. They are also working with community colleges and four-year colleges to revise curricula and, in some cases, create entirely new courses.
A partnership facilitated by the Life Sciences Network, for instance, led to the creation of a dozen internships at the biotech company Advaxis, Inc., giving college students the opportunity to apply what they learned in school while doing meaningful work in their chosen field.
The Financial Services Network and M&T Bank created a six-month paid management training program to expose candidates to a successful banking career, with hands-on training and a three-month job shadowing period.
In New Jersey’s manufacturing industry, apprenticeships are ideal for training the future workforce. Federal and state agencies are working to make it easier for small manufacturers to have a registered program, one that will provide industry credentials needed for a career.
Enter the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). It has launched a pilot program called MechaFORCE-Registered Internship Manufacturing, or M-RIM for short. NJIT and the Advanced Manufacturing Talent Network will find apprentices for qualified businesses, identify occupations suitable for apprenticeships, develop formal agreements, work with schools and educators to meet classroom requirements, and take care of the required reports to the federal government.
Even the retail and hospitality industry is part of the program. The Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Talent Network will partner with the Wakefern Corporation (a consortium of Shop-Rite supermarkets), the state’s largest private employer, to develop a curriculum for career pathways in loss prevention and information security. It also will work with the Game Learn Corporation to introduce a customer service training program based on interactive simulations.
What we have learned is the need for post-secondary education that does not necessarily lead immediately to a college degree. Many of these programs focus on certifications and credentials that will let students pursue careers without the time and expense of going to college full time right out of high school.
And there is more to come. NJBIA has joined in an education campaign called “65 by 25: Many Paths, One Future.” The goal is to have at least 65 percent of the workforce attain a post-secondary school credential or degree by 2025. An ambitious goal to be sure, but as the world of business has changed, so must education. The Talent Networks provide an important connection that schools and businesses need to make that happen.