Aaron Fichtner

Today’s NJBIA Workforce Development Summit: Opportunities Abound

Ensuring New Jersey businesses have employees with the skills they need was the goal of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association’s four-hour Workforce Development Summit held this morning at Branchburg-based Raritan Valley Community College.

With the theme “Building Talent, Skills and Resources for a Business Like Yours,” NJBIA said the event was “for employers, by employers,” and brought business and workforce leaders together for discussions on topics, including, but not limited to: best practices for workforce alignment; career preparedness skills training; workforce development resources and opportunities; and maximizing workforce training return-on-investment (ROI).

NJBIA’ s President and CEO Michele N. Siekerka told the audience, “This is our first workforce development summit [and it] is meant to bring us all together, today: The business community, the educators, and our state government, working together to identify a skilled workforce and invest in that workforce pipeline that is significant to the future economy of New Jersey … Our [NJBIA] members tell us every day that it is not just about industry skills, but it is also about employability skills; the soft skills.

“New Jersey is No. 1 nationally when it comes to K-12 [education]; we rank head-and-shoulders above others.  We are so invested in K-12, community colleges, four-year education [institutions], and career-technical [institutions]. But, where is the disconnect, that these students are [graduating] not prepared to walk right into your place of business, with the skill sets they need, both industry and soft skills? That’s what these partnerships are meant to identify, work on, foster – and ensure that we are building that pipeline for your future.”

Keynote speaker Dennis Bone, chairman of the State Employment and Training Commission (SETC), shared his thoughts on how the business community can play a greater role in strengthening New Jersey’s workforce. Bone is also director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University’s School of Business and former president of Verizon New Jersey Inc.

He told the audience, “The case that I would like to make is the case for why employers, businesses in this state – in this room – really have something at stake in creating partnerships with the workforce system, including colleges and community colleges, and vo-tech schools: The entire system that gives our folks the skills they need to survive.”

Bone detailed a wide-ranging current and future economy with growth areas that include: the “Internet of Things”; nanotechnology; data analytics; battery technology; computer health diagnosis tools; personalized medicine; electronic medical records; health data security; economy-wide voice translation; transportation logistics; and advanced manufacturing, including 3-D printing.

He added, “We have all these forces at play, but then we have three – in my opinion – mega-forces on the side, that are going to sweep over everything.” Bone detailed the effects of globalization, the on-demand economy, and – perhaps surprisingly – driver-less cars, of which he said, “You cannot think of anything that is going to not be impacted by driver-less cars, and it is going to have all sorts of social benefits.”

Bone explained, “[With] everything I am talking about, you might say, ‘Well, Dennis, you are just talking about high-income jobs of the future.’  Well, with a lot of it, I am.  And, believe me: When I talk about the economic divide, it is those with skills versus those without skills.  We really have to take it seriously, to get the right skills in everybody’s hands.  But, that’s what I see as the value: High-value partnerships, so that the workforce can be responsive to employer needs.”

Meanwhile, former Governor James McGreevey discussed “The Foundation for Successful Reentry into Society,” detailing both the challenges and successes surrounding persons faced with addictions/incarceration. He said, “We want to work with the business community.  We want to collaborate with the business community.  At the end of the day, as my father used to say, ‘The best social welfare program in the world is a job.’  Please work with us.”

Today’s event also featured two wide-ranging employer panel discussions led by Marie Barry, assistant division director for the Office of Career Readiness in the NJ Department of Education, and Aaron Fichtner, deputy commissioner of the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Panelists included representatives from top industries in New Jersey, including PSEG, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, Atlantic Health Systems and more.

Detailed coverage of today’s event – as well as these panels – will be featured in the May issue of NEW JERSEY BUSINESS magazine.

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