Hal J. Wirths

Commissioner Wirths to Leave NJ Labor Department

Governor Chris Christie announces that New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) Commissioner Hal J. Wirths is leaving his post next month after serving in this capacity since February 2010. One of the longest-serving cabinet members in the Christie Administration, Wirths will be nominated by the governor to serve on the State Parole Board.

“Serving under Governor Christie’s leadership for the last six and a half years has been an incredible honor,” Commissioner Wirths said.  “Together with the department’s talented staff, we have overcome tremendous challenges to make great strides for the people of New Jersey, including cutting the unemployment rate in half and restoring the bankrupt Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to solvency, triggering unprecedented tax savings for New Jersey businesses. I am proud of our accomplishments and confident in the department’s continued success.”

Wirths became LWD commissioner in the midst of the Great Recession. In 2010, the state unemployment rate was 9.6 percent, with 437,000 people out of work. Wirths also had to deal with Superstorm Sandy, which worsened the state’s unemployment picture as the destruction forced the closure of numerous businesses. Because of his actions in getting businesses up and running and people back to work in the storm’s aftermath, Wirths and LWD received a special SEAL award from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. As he leaves office, the state’s unemployment rate stands at 4.9 percent, five percentage points lower than the year-end 2010 rate.

Governor Christie commended Wirths for his strong sense of public service and for bringing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund back to solvency. “Hal demonstrated great leadership during an economic downturn when our Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund was bankrupt and the Great Recession hit its peak. His staff introduced re-employment programs that involved private employers, and they launched fiscal reforms and anti-fraud programs to help restore the Trust Fund. Now, as Hal leaves, our Trust Fund is fully solvent, more than 258,000 private sector jobs have been added and the unemployment rate has been cut by more than half. I want to thank Hal for all his good work and wish him the very best.”

According to New Jersey Business & Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka, “Commissioner Wirths was a vital liaison for NJBIA’s workforce development efforts and a true champion in fixing our broken Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. His tenure was a notable one and we thank him for his dedication to New Jersey’s businesses and workers.”

Melanie Willoughby, NJBIA chief government affairs officer, adds, “Hal Wirths was an outstanding LWD Commissioner. NJBIA had a great relationship with him in helping the department with many of its core programs, like unemployment insurance and job training. He oversaw a reengineering of workforce development to ensure that the department’s training dollars were coordinated with employers for jobs that existed.”

Commissioner Wirths and LWD built a nationally-recognized anti-fraud program designed to prevent unemployment insurance benefits from being improperly paid to fraudsters. The programs are conservatively estimated to have saved taxpayers approximately $800 million since March 2011.  The Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund reached full solvency by May 1, 2014.

During his tenure, the LWD created the “talent networks” in partnership with higher education institutions and businesses with a goal of helping to train workers in the skills actually needed for jobs that employers are trying to fill. The networks cover several sectors, including advanced manufacturing, financial services, healthcare, life sciences, technology, entrepreneurship, transportation and distribution, tourism and recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

“There’s nothing crueler than training people for jobs that don’t exist,” Wirths said in a previous interview with New Jersey Business magazine. “The talent networks show where the jobs are in each county, and then provide training for people in key industries.”

The LWD also created the Jobs4Jersey website, which consolidated a number of other job sites into one stop locations in an effort to help the state’s unemployed find jobs.

Wirths lives in Hardyston Township with his wife and two daughters.  He was a founder of Noble Community Bank, which is part of Highlands State Bank, and served on the Highlands Bank’s board of directors. He also owned and managed two furniture stores for 18 years before selling them in 2004.

He first met the governor at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Sussex County. A big fan of Christie’s, Wirths said, “It was a huge honor when the governor asked me to come and serve in his administration.”

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