Melanie Willoughby, executive director of the New Jersey Business Action Center (NJBAC), has made expanding and enhancing career and technical education (CTE) in New Jersey both her personal and professional mission for the last decade. On Sept. 22, the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools (NJCCVTS) recognized her invaluable support with the CTE Leadership Award.
Prior to joining the NJBAC in 2018, Willoughby served as the chief government affairs officer of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA). While in this role, Willoughby met former NJCCVTS Executive Director Judy Savage, who retired this past summer. That meeting launched a partnership between the two organizations that has led to greater awareness and resources to create and expand CTE programs aimed at meeting the needs of New Jersey employers.
“When Melanie and NJBIA began to tout the value and importance of career and technical education, business leaders and state decision-makers took their message seriously,” said Savage, during the Sept. 22 award presentation. “As we talked to leaders in the Legislature, they understood the need to make CTE expansion an economic priority for New Jersey, and momentum began to grow.”
Over the summer, the state Legislature awarded $223 million in grants as part of the 2018 voter-approved Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act. That first round of grants will support 17 projects at 15 county vocational-technical school districts, adding new programming as well as space for more students. Another $52 million in additional grant funding will add to the impact on both education and business in New Jersey.
“It has been a long journey, but unquestionably, the recently awarded grants had their genesis in the NJBIA conference room almost 10 years ago,” noted Savage. “Without Melanie as our visible and vocal champion, along with the active engagement of NJBIA and employers, the Bond Act would not – could not – have come to fruition.”
New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way offered her congratulations to Willoughby on the award. “Melanie Willoughby is an experienced leader whose wisdom and friendship is valued not only by her colleagues at the Business Action Center and across the Department of State, but by workers and businesses throughout New Jersey. I’m so pleased to congratulate Melanie on this well-deserved honor.”
Willoughby accepted the award with heartfelt gratitude. “I took to heart what you do for students, ensuring they have a pathway to meaningful careers and also helping those entering college start out with credits and less debt,” she said. “I recognized the value of career and technical education and made it my mission to help others realize it as well, including legislators, parents and the business community. Today, there is an entire section of the NJBIA dedicated to workforce development, with county vocational-technical schools integral to that effort.”
“Melanie’s leadership and support has been instrumental in increasing employer awareness of career and technical education and bringing county vocational-technical schools to this exciting period of growth,” said NJCCVTS Executive Director Jackie Burke. “Her continuing efforts to connect employers with our schools are incredibly valuable to students and industry partners alike.”
Willoughby also served as the president and CEO of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, a state-wide retail business organization representing more than 3,500 stores. Her ongoing commitment to aiding business owners in New Jersey recently earned her a place among New Jersey’s most influential economic development leaders, according to ROI-NJ.
The NJCCVTS is a non-profit association, created by state law, which represents the 21 New Jersey county vocational-technical school districts. Membership consists of the superintendents from all 21 districts. The Council is governed by those superintendents who are elected by fellow members as officers and to an executive committee.
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