Businesses around the world are facing an employee skills gap. A pre-pandemic McKinsey & Company study on global future workforce needs, published in February 2020, revealed that 9 in 10 executives and managers either already faced a worker skills gap or expected gaps to develop at their organizations within five years. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the crisis as businesses rushed to implement remote work technologies, requiring employees to acquire new digital skills to accomplish their jobs.
According to a Korn Ferry report, there could be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people by 2030, which would result in some $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues. The US alone could face a deficit of 6 million people. This talent shortage would cost the nation $162 billion annually unless the country finds more high-tech workers.
In New Jersey, the worker skills gap is no different. In the manufacturing, transportation and logistics sectors alone, there are more than 40,000 job openings. According to John Kennedy, CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP), “Every firm we work with (over 10,000) is in need of trained and experienced people.”
Chrissy Buteas, chief government affairs officer at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA), comments that the pandemic caused those with skills sets to exit the labor force, and those who have come in to fill those jobs, “don’t necessarily have the skills employers are looking for.”
“The biggest problem is that there is no viable pipeline of new workers. So, we have to create the [pipeline] programs,” Kennedy says.
Creating those programs is now underway in the Garden State as government, business organizations and academic institutions are banding together to create and enhance the worker pipeline.
Last December, the state’s community colleges teamed up with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association to create the New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities initiative. Supported by an $8.5 million investment from state government, Pathways “brings together employers, industry associations, labor unions, education institutions and workforce development partners to provide students, adult learners and workers with the education and career pathways they need,” says Catherine Frugé Starghill, Esq., senior director, strategy partnerships, New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development. “It also ensures that employers have access to a highly skilled workforce to meet their needs.”
The Pathways program is comprised of four industry collaboratives – health services, infrastructure and energy, manufacturing and supply chain management, and technology and innovation. Each collaborative consists of statewide inclusive groups with the mission of building their respective talent ecosystem.
Additionally, the program has created 10 Centers of Workforce Innovation. These are smaller work groups of cross section partners that build connected education pathways from high schools to community colleges to four-year colleges and universities, and include workforce development training as well as academic education. (See the 10 centers listing on the right.)
According to Buteas, NJBIA’s role in the Pathways program is “to bring the business community to the table so that it is part of the conversation with all of our education partners as well as government and other community organizations.”
At press-time, there are more than 1,000 education and industry partners involved in the Pathways program, according to Starghill.
In another partnership, NJBIA recently teamed up with NJMEP for the Manufacturing Counts campaign, which, according to Kennedy, is an effort to “bring more focus to this critical industry.”
“When one considers the overall positive financial and employment impact that 11,000-plus firms in manufacturing, STEM and transportation & logistics make in our state, it is obvious that partnering and teamwork are the best available options to support these sectors,” Kennedy said when the program was announced in February of this year.
According to Buteas, “The partnership will elevate the voice of the manufacturing community before policy makers.”
At press-time, two bills are already moving through the New Jersey Legislature that NJBIA and NJMEP are supporting as part of their relationship. They include:
Finally, NJMEP and NJBIA will pursue legislation to provide tax incentives supporting large manufacturers involved in the wind industry to contract with smaller New Jersey manufacturers.
On its own, NJMEP has more than 260 manufacturing personnel enrolled in various workforce development programs. Some of these programs include those offered by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL). They include the Growing Apprenticeship in Non-traditional Sectors (GAINS) and the Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education (PACE) grant programs.
According to NJDOL spokesperson Angela Delli Santi, approximately 22,000 residents are being assisted by the GAINS program and other initiatives, such as Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funded programs and justice-involved workforce development and reintegration programs.
Delli Santi comments, “NJDOL provides funding to local Workforce Development Boards across New Jersey to support the workforce needs for youth, dislocated workers, and general career seekers with significant barriers to employment. The WIOA program and its engagement of the local workforce boards is one of the cornerstones of the workforce development system for New Jersey.”
When asked about new workforce development initiatives, Delli Santi points to the Lifelong Learning Accounts (LiLAs) pilot program. “The purpose of LiLAs is to provide funding and support that gives career seekers autonomy in managing their education, training and path to meaningful employment. NJDOL, the New Jersey Office of Innovation, and the Office of the Governor will deploy this two-year pilot initiative to fund the training of unemployed and under-employed low-income individuals without degrees or credentials,” Delli Santi says.
Through the program, it is anticipated that recipients will receive up to $9,600 per person to pay for: 1) training and 2) wraparound services such as childcare and transportation. “We anticipate 1,000 participants benefiting from this new initiative,” Delli Santi explains.
Meanwhile, the state’s 21 county vocational-technical school districts are preparing 36,000 students for college and all types of career pathways, and offering short-term career training programs to some 4,000 adults.
“While the types of adult programs vary by county to meet regional needs, construction and technical trades and healthcare training are the most widely available,” says Jackie Burke, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools (NJCCVTS).
In terms of new training developments, Burke says that the 2018 Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act has provided substantial funding for the expansion of county vocational-technical school facilities to accommodate almost 5,000 additional students who will begin training for high-demand careers during high school. “New programs being added or expanded include healthcare and biotechnology, construction trades, manufacturing, global logistics, sustainability, and hospitality,” she says.
Additionally, county vocational-technical schools are also working closely with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) to prepare high school and adult students for welding and other jobs to be created by New Jersey’s burgeoning off-shore wind industry.
Burke says that besides a shortage of highly skilled workers, employers are also seeking candidates with basic career-readiness skills. “Career and technical education programs are solutions to employer demands; they emphasize critical career skills like problem-solving, communication, and responsibility, while also equipping students with specific technical skills and work experiences that prepare them for employment as well as continued education at the college level,” she says.
Meanwhile, NJBIA has had a long-standing partnership with the New Jersey Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development, and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development in delivering the NJBIA Workplace Literacy and Basic Skills Training Program. According to NJBIA’s Buteas, the free program, which teaches literacy, communications, math, management and soft-tech skills, is “the most successful workforce development programs in the state, having trained nearly 200,000 employees from more than 11,000 companies.
As one can see by the various programs mentioned, much is being done to enhance the skills of the New Jersey workforce. Asked if anything further is missing in the workforce pipeline, NJCCVTS’s Burke comments, “Employer involvement is key to successful workforce development efforts. … We need more employers to get involved with helping our schools engage and develop the next generation of talent.”
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