Steve Sweeney

NJMEP Event Focuses on Closing the Manufacturing Skills Gap

The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) held its second annual “State-of-the-State of Manufacturing” event in Trenton yesterday, which afforded industry professionals a chance to interact with New Jersey legislators regarding some key issues currently affecting their industry.

NJMEP CEO John Kennedy said that the gathering was intended to give manufacturing professionals a chance to speak to the people who make decisions on their behalf, opening up a dialogue for conversation, as opposed to being a “complaint session.”

A live survey conducted at the event revealed that nearly half of the professionals in attendance noted workforce development as the No. 1 issue currently troubling their business – a result that can be extrapolated to the manufacturing industry as a whole in the state.

“New Jersey is the No. 1 out-migrator of millennials in the nation,” said Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA). “That’s our workforce. These are the students we have taken time to educate – with the highest property taxes in the nation – with one of the best deliveries of K-12 education in the nation, only to have them leave the state of New Jersey. That is not a very good return on investment.”

She noted the need to be honest about re-examining traditional and true career pathways, because not every student is made to go to the standard four-year university.

Additionally, Siekerka highlighted how manufacturing is still a vital industry in the state. “Manufacturing contributes $46 billion to New Jersey’s GDP,” she said. “People say that manufacturing is dead in New Jersey, but we know that is [just] not true.”

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney delivered the event’s keynote speech. Sweeney founded a bi-partisan Legislative Manufacturing Caucus with the aim to continue identifying the needs of the industry, and to support and seek out potential solutions to issues.

He emphasized the importance of creating a more efficient way of giving students the vocational skills they need to get a job.

“The idea is, you go to a vocational school to get a certificate to do a certain job, and once you get it, you can go to work. You don’t just need to keep going to get an education,” Sweeney said, echoing the sentiment that the best way for students to hone their skills is from actually working on site.

This system of “on-ramps and off-ramps” allows students to get the education that they need for a particular job, and affords them the chance to go back to school if something in the industry, such as technology, changes.

“I need to make sure that the vocational schools, county colleges and four-year schools are working to provide these types of certificates so that when [manufacturers] are looking for a particular employee [they are available to hire],” Sweeney said.

NJMEP is hosting a second “State-of-the-State of Manufacturing” event tomorrow (April 6) at the County College of Morris in Randolph.

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