Ideas to help manufacturing grow, prosper in the state

Senate President Steve Sweeney has thoughts on helping manufacturing in the state.

Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who helped to create the manufacturing caucus, spoke in length last week at the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program’s annual State of the State about sponsoring a $750 million bond issue to fund the expansion of vocational and technical education facilities, as well as manufacturing programs and safety protocols within high schools and county colleges.

“We hear from you that 40,000 jobs go unfilled each year because we simply haven’t trained enough people for those jobs,” he said. “Then we hear that there are 15,000 kids each year who can’t get into vocational schools because we have made them institutes of technology.

“Through Sen. (Bob) Gordon’s work and our bipartisan caucus, we have started recognizing where we are failing.”

Sweeney said the work could begin by expanding “stackable credits” outside of the Gloucester County Institute of Technology and Rowan University.

“The idea is that if you need a certificate to do a certain job, you can get it and go to work,” Sweeney said. “If you only need so much education to make a living, get it, go to work, and if something changes and you need to learn more, go back. You can work your way through vocational school, county college and a university this way by getting the education that you need when you need it.

“No one is against this idea in Trenton. The challenge for me now is to expand this idea beyond Gloucester County.”

Michele Siekerka, CEO and president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said time is of the essence.

“New Jersey is the No. 1 out-migrator of millennials between 18 and 34 years old in the nation,” she said. “These are the students we have taken the time to educate using the highest property taxes in the nation for one of the best deliveries of kindergarten through 12th grade education, and they are leaving. That is not a very good return on investment.”

Siekerka said her organization has and will continue to serve as a facilitator between New Jersey businesses, academia, policy makers, students and nonprofits to identify skills gaps and put forth recommendations on how to solve them.

(READ MORE from ROI-NJ on manufacturing questions and answers.)

“We’ve also put together a task force — involving many of you in the room as well as businesses, K through 12 schools, career and technical educators, community colleges, public and private four-year secondary educators, nonprofits, the Department of Labor, the Secretary of Higher Education, and the Department of Education — to discuss with millennials how to make post-secondary education in New Jersey attractive and affordable so graduating high school seniors don’t leave and how to be honest about traditional career pathways.”

John Kennedy said he was thrilled that more than 150 manufacturers attended the first session of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program’s second annual State of the State last week at the Trenton War Memorial.

The CEO of the NJMEP just knows there could be more.

“There are nearly 11,000 manufacturers in the state,” Kennedy said. “I, too, own a manufacturing company and could give myself every excuse to not be involved. But we cannot assume that our legislators and our government know everything about what we do and vice versa.

“If we do not get involved, we do not get to speak to the people who make decisions on our behalf.”