The New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools (NJCCVTS) presented John W. Kennedy, PhD., with the 2023 Career and Technical Education Leadership Award. Kennedy recently retired following11 years at the helm of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP). Among his priorities was the development and evolution of career and technical education (CTE) that prepares New Jersey youth to enter manufacturing roles and drive the industry forward.
Since 2015, the council has annually recognized a policymaker, business leader or higher education partner who has been an outstanding champion of career-focused learning and New Jersey’s 21 county vocational-technical school districts. Kennedy is the first industry-specific awardee.
“In every forum and at every opportunity, John has provided passionate and highly effective leadership for the manufacturing industry,” said NJCCVTS Executive Director Jackie Burke. “And because workforce development is perhaps the sector’s most pressing challenge, John relentlessly promoted STEM and career and technical education as critical solutions.”
Burke explained that Kennedy became CEO with NJMEP at a time when even the county vocational-technical schools had trouble seeing manufacturing as a viable career pathway for students. The schools’ manufacturing programs closed or morphed into programs with a broader engineering focus; then Kennedy began advocating for the industry.
“He helped state leaders, elected officials and educators like us understand the importance of the manufacturing industry, which includes more than 11,000 New Jersey companies employing more than a quarter of a million people,” Burke added.
To help build an employee pipeline to sustain the industry and seize opportunities for growth, Kennedy made important connections that led to a resurgence of manufacturing career and technical education programs. He advised educators on program development and paired schools with local business partners, opening doors for students to learn in real-world settings and network.
Kennedy also played a substantial role in the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act, which included $275 million in state bond funding to help county vocational-technical schools expand to meet both students’ and the state’s workforce needs. His meetings with lawmakers led to the creation of a Manufacturing Caucus, followed by the development of the Bond Act.
“CTE schools are not only the hidden gems of New Jersey education, but in many ways, the lynchpin for career pathways,” said Kennedy, explaining the level of support he has given the schools over the years. “Their role in educating young people in highly technical and highly skilled sectors is an absolute critical function.”
In addition to his leadership role with NJMEP, Kennedy spent much of his career as owner of the engineering firm, The Multitech Group, which had a dual focus in large sortation systems and in air pollution control devices for power plants located in South Plainfield. He also was co-owner of Barnett Industries, a large bore machine shop in Irvington. Earlier, he worked for Sandvik and Coleman Equipment in various engineering and managerial positions.
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