Pathways to Career Opportunities initiative aims to build innovative workforce

NJBIA teaming up with N.J. community colleges, others in effort to build highly skilled workforce

New Jersey’s community colleges and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association have launched New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities, a transformational initiative designed to align the state’s educational system to build an innovative workforce.

The program will align employers, industry associations, labor unions, educational institutions and workforce development partners to provide students and workers with structured pathways to find career opportunities and to ensure that employers have access to a highly skilled workforce to meet critical labor market needs.

Aaron Fichtner, president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges, said the program is an example of how business and higher education can work together — and should work together.

“This is a new day for New Jersey’s economy,” he said. “With business and education working together in new and innovative ways, we will ensure New Jersey has the most skilled, innovative and well-educated workforce in the country.

“We ask that educational institutions, businesses, community and workforce organizations, and others join with us in this important work.”

The Pathways initiative is led by collaboratives focused on four industries that are the foundation of the state’s economy:

  • Health services;
  • Technology and innovation;
  • Infrastructure and energy;
  • Manufacturing and supply chain management.

“These collaboratives are designed to obtain high-quality and timely labor market information about the changing needs of employers, and to build an ecosystem of education and training partners to encourage collaboration and information sharing,” Fichtner said.

Supporting those four collaboratives will be 10 Centers of Workforce Innovation, which will include education and training partners.

All of New Jersey’s 18 community college partners, as well as high schools, four-year colleges and universities, and community-based training providers across the state, will be involved, with the goals of aligning and improving existing curricula, prioritizing industry-valued credentials and developing transfer agreements.

Among the deliverables for the initiative is the development of a state strategic workforce plan for each of the four industries; the identification of labor market demand and industry-valued credentials for each industry; the development of detailed career pathway maps to guide the work; and the dissemination of those career pathway maps to students and workers at all levels.

Michele Siekerka, the CEO of NJBIA, said the program will have impact.

“We are thrilled to join New Jersey’s community colleges on this unprecedented partnership to create workforce development pathways for our future workforce,” she said. “By coordinating and expanding the collaboration of so many critical stakeholders in such a comprehensive fashion, we truly believe this program will be a game-changer for New Jersey in terms of starting and advancing careers and filling critical employment needs.”

Chrissy Buteas, the chief government affairs officer at NJBIA, agreed.

“The timeliness of the New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities program cannot be understated,” she said. “As we respond to the needs of a changing economy and labor market, the collaborative work to develop new curriculum and enhance partnerships is mission-critical.”

A New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunity Statewide Convening will be held Jan. 19 at Middlesex College in Edison, with the opportunity for interested parties to join virtually or in-person.