How hard-working NJMEP landed $500K in funding for manufacturing apprentice programs

John Kennedy knew he and his team had to get to work.

The $250,000 grant the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program received in July from its national governing body in recognition of its excellence as one of the top performing MEP centers was nice.

But it wouldn’t be worth a penny unless the state agreed to match the award.

Kennedy knew it was an opportunity the manufacturing sector in New Jersey couldn’t afford to miss out on.

“I used the grant as my wedge to get the state to create a bill,” he told ROI-NJ. “And then the team worked its butt off to get it approved.”

NJMEP worked closely with the leaders of the Bipartisan Manufacturing Caucus, including state Sens. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.) and Steve Oroho (R-Sparta), to craft legislation that would support all requirements necessary to get the matching federal money, Kennedy said.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill, assuring that NJMEP will have an additional $500,000 in 2019.

File photo
John Kennedy of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.

Kennedy said the money will help jump-start apprenticeship programs the manufacturing sector desperately needs.

“This is a really good thing for New Jersey and a really big deal,” he said. “The bill will provide NJMEP with $500,000 to be spent on expanding our apprenticeships programs within the critical advanced manufacturing /STEM/TLD sectors.”

More specifically, Kennedy said, NJMEP will be able to expand its current pilot programs that are helping to create more production technicians, logistics technicians and technical salespeople.

“We’ve already piloted the programs and we’ve seen that it works on a small level,” he said. “We want to do a full-blown program to prove that all the pieces work.”

The programs have started in Newark, Paterson and Trenton, but Kennedy is eager to bring it to other areas — and add additional programs.

Kennedy, who spent decades in the industry as an owner, knows how important it is to work with existing companies to make sure their needs are understood and met.

“We want to make sure that we spend the money correctly,” he said. “We’re working with companies that need various types of apprenticeships.

“We want to engage with the communities and the schools to draw in candidates and work with those companies to get them hired and get them started on their pathway.”

For Murphy, the idea of helping to improve the manufacturing sector fits into his vision of creating a more innovative economy for the state — one, he said, that offers more opportunities for middle-skilled workers.

“I commend the sponsors of this bill for recognizing the importance of investing in the Manufacturing Extension Program, which has shown an 11:1 rate of return on such investments, in addition to creating and saving jobs across New Jersey,” he said in a statement.

“The availability of matching federal funds to support entry-level training programs focusing on the underserved, veterans, under-employed and re-entry workers in diverse areas of manufacturing makes this an even more appealing investment.”

Kennedy knows it will meet a need he is intimately familiar with — a need that’s not going away.

That’s why, for Kennedy and NJMEP, the work is just beginning.

“We believe this funding will make a big difference to the state’s ecosystem,” he said. “Our goal is to continue to grow these opportunities.”