Ensuring New Jersey businesses have employees with the skills they need was the goal of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s (NJBIA) inaugural Workforce Development Summit recently held at Branchburg-based Raritan Valley Community College.
With the theme “Building Talent, Skills and Resources for a Business Like Yours,” NJBIA said the event was “for employers, by employers,” and brought business and workforce leaders together for discussions on topics, including, but not limited to: best practices for workforce alignment; career preparedness skills training; workforce development resources and opportunities; and maximizing workforce training return-on-investment (ROI).
NJBIA’ s President and CEO Michele N. Siekerka told the audience, “This workforce development summit is meant to bring us all together, today; the business community, the educators, and our state government, working together to identify a skilled workforce and invest in that workforce pipeline that is significant to the future economy of New Jersey. … Our [NJBIA] members tell us every day that it is not just about industry skills, but it is also about employability skills; the soft skills.
“New Jersey is No. 1 nationally when it comes to K-12 [education]; we rank head-and-shoulders above others. We are so invested in K-12, community colleges, four-year education [institutions] and career-technical [institutions], but, where is the disconnect, that these students are [graduating] not prepared to walk right into your place of business with the skill sets they need, both industry and soft skills? That’s what these partnerships are meant to identify, work on and foster – and ensure that we are building that pipeline for your future.”
Keynote speaker Dennis Bone, chairman of the State Employment and Training Commission (SETC), shared his thoughts on how the business community can play a greater role in strengthening New Jersey’s workforce. Bone is also director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University’s School of Business and former president of Verizon New Jersey Inc.
He told the audience, “The case that I would like to make is the case for why employers, businesses in this state – in this room – really have something at stake in creating partnerships with the workforce system, including colleges and community colleges, and vo-tech schools; the entire system that gives our folks the skills they need to survive.”
Bone detailed a wide-ranging current and future economy with growth areas that include: the “Internet of Things”; nanotechnology; data analytics; battery technology; computer health diagnostic tools; personalized medicine; electronic medical records; health data security; voice translation; transportation logistics; and advanced manufacturing, including 3D printing.
He added, “We have all these forces at play, but then we have three – in my opinion – mega-forces on the side, that are going to sweep over everything.” Bone explained the effects of globalization, the on-demand economy, and – perhaps surprisingly – driverless cars, of which he said, “You cannot think of anything that is going to not be impacted by driverless cars. It is going to have all sorts of social benefits.”
Bone said, “[With] everything I am talking about, you might say, ‘Well, Dennis, you are just talking about high-income jobs of the future.’ Well, with a lot of it, I am. And, believe me: When I talk about the economic divide, it is those with skills versus those without skills. We really have to take it seriously, to get the right skills in everybody’s hands. But, that’s what I see as the value: High-value partnerships, so that the workforce can be responsive to employer needs.”
Meanwhile, former Governor James McGreevey discussed “The Foundation for Successful Reentry into Society,” detailing both the challenges and successes surrounding persons faced with addictions/incarceration. He said, “We want to work with the business community. We want to collaborate with the business community. At the end of the day, as my father used to say, ‘The best social welfare program in the world is a job.’ Please work with us.”
The day’s event also featured two wide-ranging employer panel discussions led by Marie Barry, assistant division director for the Office of Career Readiness in the NJ Department of Education, and Aaron Fichtner, deputy commissioner of the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Barry moderated the first panel discussion titled “Building Skills for Employment,” as panelist Scott J. Cirillo, New York Metro Talent Strategy Lead at Accenture, offered an example of how businesses can partner with non-profits to bolster the workforce.
He said, “We partnered with Junior Achievement to create a curriculum [for high school students]. It is called Career Success, and it is focused on communication skills, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.”
Fichtner moderated a panel discussion titled, “Advancing Your Existing Workforce.”
He said, “What we mean by a high-quality, employer-driven partnership is one that is driven by the needs of employers; it is led by employers that need a great variety of different educational programs and creates that pathway for individuals to move directly to jobs that are in demand.”
Meanwhile, panel participant Kurt Grimm, founder and CEO of KWG Industries LLC (a Hillsborough-based contract manufacturer), noted, “When I was young, there were formal apprenticeship programs. There are certain parts of the country where [such programs are] stronger than here [in New Jersey], but it doesn’t really exist.”
As a result, Grimm said that while there is an overall “skills gap,” his company has partnered with Raritan Valley Community College, and is in the second year of a “very robust” advanced manufacturing program.
The workforce summit had many highlights, and Grimm’s following comment was among them: “I taught my children the 10 two-letters words that, if you take them to heart, will change your life, and I have believed this all my life. They are: If it is to be, it is up to me. So, we need your (the business community’s) help. Get involved.”