Willoughby honored for her support, assistance for CTE programs

Melanie Willoughby, executive director of the New Jersey Business Action Center, was honored with the CTE Leadership Award by the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools for her longstanding support of vocational and technical education.

NJCCVTS officials said Willoughby has made expanding and enhancing career and technical education in New Jersey both her personal and professional mission for the last decade — an effort that helped lead to the historic effort by the state Legislature, which awarded $223 million in grants as part of the 2018 voter-approved Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act.

Prior to joining the NJBAC in 2018, Willoughby served as the chief government affairs officer of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. During that role, Willoughby met former NJCCVTS Executive Director Judy Savage — a meeting that launched a partnership between the two organizations that has led to greater awareness and resources to create and expand CTE programs aimed at meeting the needs of New Jersey employers.

Savage, speaking at the award presentation last week, said those meetings had great impact.

“When Melanie and NJBIA began to tout the value and importance of career and technical education, business leaders and state decision-makers took their message seriously,” Savage said. “As we talked to leaders in the Legislature, they understood the need to make CTE expansion an economic priority for New Jersey, and momentum began to grow.”

The $223 million in grants will support 17 projects at 15 county vocational-technical school districts, adding new programming as well as space for more students. Another $52 million in additional grant funding will add to the impact on both education and business in New Jersey.

“It has been a long journey, but, unquestionably, the recently awarded grants had their genesis in the NJBIA conference room almost 10 years ago,” Savage said. “Without Melanie as our visible and vocal champion, along with the active engagement of NJBIA and employers, the Bond Act would not — could not — have come to fruition.”

Willoughby accepted the award with heartfelt gratitude.

“I took to heart what you do for students, ensuring they have a pathway to meaningful careers and also helping those entering college start out with credits and less debt,” she said. “I recognized the value of career and technical education and made it my mission to help others realize it as well, including legislators, parents and the business community. Today, there is an entire section of the NJBIA dedicated to workforce development, with county vocational-technical schools integral to that effort.”

NJCCVTS Executive Director Jackie Burke said Willoughby’s efforts cannot be overstated.

“Melanie’s leadership and support has been instrumental in increasing employer awareness of career and technical education and bringing county vocational-technical schools to this exciting period of growth,” she said. “Her continuing efforts to connect employers with our schools are incredibly valuable to students and industry partners alike.”