Return & Earn: Why Murphy hopes cash incentive — plus training — can solve hiring crisis

Gov. Phil Murphy. (File photo)

No state has shown a foolproof plan for getting people to return to work — whether the attempt has involved financial incentives to return or pulling supplemental financial payments for those out of work.

Gov. Phil Murphy is hoping the Return & Earn program the state introduced Monday can change that.

The program provides $500 for workers — and up to $10,000 in wage subsidies to employers to help cover retraining costs.

For Murphy, combining a financial incentive with a workforce development component is something that differentiates the New Jersey plan from other efforts.

“We think cash on the barrel alone is interesting, but it’s even more interesting when you put a workforce development and upskill component to it,” he said Monday.

Facilitated by the business support unit at the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, employers can take advantage of New Jersey’s existing on-the-job training infrastructure to provide wage reimbursement support to New Jersey employers that hire eligible applicants with identifiable skills gaps.

Employers will then be reimbursed for 50% of the wages paid for regular hours worked during the contracted employer-provided training period.

Employers can receive the wage subsidy for up to 6 months, up to the cap of $10,000 per Return & Earn employee, and are limited to a total Return & Earn subsidy across all employees of $40,000.

NJDOL is currently working on the execution of this program, including developing a streamlined online application process. The general process and eligibility criteria are as follows:

  • NJDOL will work with employers to identify prospective candidates for available positions;
  • The employer will provide substantive On-the-Job Training at its location or, depending on circumstances, utilize approved virtual training, that results in skill badges or industry-recognized credentials;
  • Eligible applicants are private and not-for-profit employers with up to 100 full-time employees;
  • Candidates must be New Jersey residents working full-time (minimum 32 hours per week);
  • Seasonal, part-time, commission-based or 1099 positions are not eligible.

Murphy gave an example of how he hopes the program will work, saying someone making $12 an hour would be able to train for a job that pays much more.

“This is hopefully some way to accelerate that process — and get those matches made between the openings of the folks who are either unemployed or want to upskill themselves to a different and better job,” he said.

Murphy said the jobs are out there — it’s just a matter of making a match.

“I haven’t been in a restaurant, a bar, a small business, literally not one where folks said they couldn’t hire the folks they want to hire,” he said. “And, at the same time, you’ve got a lot of folks over here, who may be looking for work, may have made a life decision, there’s a whole combination of reasons why you’ve got this mismatch.”

Murphy said the program would start as a pilot, using $10 million in funds that the state received from the American Rescue Plan.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” he said. “We’re going to put $10 million into it and get it off the ground and see what the uptake is — and if it is as significant as we anticipated, maybe we’ll find ways to amp that up.”