At the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA), there are three key areas we have been working on to address education and workforce development: education standards and employability skills; employer partnerships; and refining other parts of the workforce pipeline.
First, New Jersey employers continue to need a highly educated, highly skilled workforce, and while in the past NJBIA has focused on technical education and training, we have recently focused on “soft skills” training, or what we like to call “employability skills.”
According to our 57th Business Outlook Survey of our members, New Jersey companies are headed in the right direction regarding profits, investments and seeking to hire employees, this year. However, the business community continues to suffer from a workforce mismatch between available jobs and workers’ skills.
When we think about hiring, often technical skills or “hard skills” help an individual land a job. However, it is employability skills (the ability to effectively communicate, work in teams, show up on time) that will make or break an incumbent worker.
While we continue to invest in our Basic Skills Training Program in close partnership with the New Jersey Community College Consortium (which offers employability skills training), we understand there must be a systemic change – at all levels – if we hope to support the needs of our employers and ensure all New Jersey job seekers have the employability skills required for successful employment.
That’s why, two years ago, NJBIA and the State Employment and Training Commission (SETC) teamed up and created the Employability Skill Taskforce. Here, we have brought together all of the education and workforce development stakeholders to help address this issue.
We have been particularly focused on K-12 education, with the hope of addressing these skill gaps early in students’ education. Working with educators and the New Jersey Department of Education, NJBIA continues to ensure New Jersey’s education standards align with business needs to help students become ready for the world of work. We developed 12 Career Ready Practices, which outline the skills all students should know and understand by the time they graduate high school.
Additionally, we served on the New Jersey Academic Standards Review Committee to align and clarify New Jersey’s high education standards, so students from urban, suburban and rural districts can receive the same educational foundation regardless of their zip codes.
The thinking behind how New Jersey develops its workforce training programs has also evolved to be more employer-focused. Today, training programs are employer centered and adaptable to the needs of a particular business. That’s why it is also critical to show businesses how they can partner with their local community colleges and workforce training providers.
We have laid the initial foundation with state government regarding what programs our members need. It is now the employers’ responsibility to share their specific needs and take advantage of these opportunities. Take, for example, our manufacturing training programs: We worked with our members to determine their general need for computer numerical control (CNC) machinists and metal fabricators and shared this with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. However, it was the employers who shared the specific curriculum they needed – and who screened candidates before directly hiring these program graduates.
To encourage more employer-driven training, we hosted our own, first ever, Workforce Development Summit last month at Raritan Valley Community College. The half-day seminar was for employers, by employers, since the panel discussions comprised entirely of employers who shared their successes developing and benefiting from the state training and other education programs they helped design.
Finally, NJBIA has offered our research and expertise as New Jersey begins to address pre-K and post-secondary education. The Legislature is currently looking at ways to expand pre-K education for all early learners as well as make a college education more affordable for New Jersey residents. NJBIA understands the value both early education and a college degree to offer job seekers and therefore employers, but state-funded solutions against the backdrop of a tight budget are not the solution.
We have advocated for both public and private pre-K education programs to be a part of the discussion. While both types of programs provide access, the private sector, through for-profit and non-profit institutions, offers additional tax revenue and rateables to the state and local economies. Likewise, we have advocated for public-private approaches to new programs or financing opportunities.
As for a postsecondary education, employers overwhelmingly want job seekers with more than a high school degree. This does not necessarily mean a bachelor’s degree. Speaking before the College Affordability Study Commission, we shared that students, their parents and education institutions should consider other credentials like academic- and industry-recognized certificates, licenses and associate degrees that can offer a more affordable first step in pursuing higher education.