Not only is New Jersey the most densely populated state in the country, but it also possesses one of the most highly educated and highly skilled workforces. Why is it, then, that so many companies are struggling to fill open positions with qualified individuals?
Part of the “problem” is that many people are going to college at four-year universities and disregarding various high-skill trades, either intentionally – assuming that traditional college is the “better” path to take – or unintentionally, based on the fact that they simply don’t know that there are other pathways available that can lead to a successful and fulfilling career and life.
“Going to college at age 18 is great for some kids, but not so great for others. We don’t recognize the fact that there are different pathways. We don’t even look at our pathway to see how we got to where we are,” said John Kennedy, CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP), whose own career was kick-started by an electrical apprenticeship. Kennedy now owns four college degrees.
NJMEP hosted its inaugural apprenticeship Signing Day ceremony on Friday at its headquarters in Cedar Knolls. The event recognized and honored the first two groups of apprentices and employers from NJMEP’s Pro-Action Education Network Apprenticeship Program.
NJMEP is recognized by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) and the United States Department of Labor as a Registered Apprenticeship Sponsor for the occupations of technical sales and industrial manufacturing production technician.
Registered Apprenticeship programs are designed to move an apprentice from a low or no-skill entry-level position to full occupational proficiency. Upon finishing the training program, an apprentice earns a “Completion of Registered Apprenticeship” certificate, which is an industry issued, nationally recognized credential that validates proficiency in an apprenticeable occupation.
“We have long waited for something like this to happen because we hire very highly skilled, trained technical people, and we can’t find them because everyone wants their child to go to college,” said Annette Oswald, director of human resources at the Peapack-based manufacturing company Komline-Sanderson.
NJMEP works closely with community partners, Career Technical Education (CTE) schools, vocational/technical schools, community colleges, and more than 25 career centers, pooling resources and expertise to create as many pathways as possible for the students taking part in the Pro-Action Education Network.
According to NJMEP, the model leverages the core functions of the organization, creating opportunities to more effectively monitor employer demand and offer students, incumbents and dislocated workers the skills they need to become a standard of excellence within their sector. Employers can use the program to find new workers and up-skill their current workforce.
“The apprenticeship program is extremely important to building the economy of New Jersey, closing the skill gap for manufacturers that exists today, and moving workers on to various career options and opportunities and improving their lives overall,” said Patricia Moran, director of apprenticeships, NJMEP.
The event concluded with LWD Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo and Kennedy signing and presenting proclamations to each of the engaged employers along with their apprentices.
“Right now we are at a point where we are almost at full employment,” Asaro-Angelo said. “So we have employers who can’t find people to fill the jobs, and we have workers who are looking to get more than a job. In my mind, an apprenticeship is the perfect mix of both. [Apprenticeships] give employers a chance to show their employees that they care about them and that they are ready to make an investment in their lives, their family’s lives, and the economy and well-being of the entire state.”
C.B. Kaupp & Sons, Inc.
Exothermic Molding, Inc.
Komline-Sanderson Engineering Corp.
Universal Tools & Manufacturing Company
Bruker OST LLC
Knickerbocker Machine Shop, Inc.
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