Career Classroom: New program at Gloucester County Institute of Technology among those providing hope for manufacturers

Manufacturers across the state are looking to fill high-paying jobs in their high-growth industry. Those in South Jersey are increasingly optimistic that help is on the way to build their workforce.

Gloucester County Institute of Technology is just under a year away from launching a new Academy of Advanced Manufacturing and Applied Science in a brand-new, state-of-the-art building. That expansion is funded by a grant made possible by the passing of the 2018 Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act, which provided $275 million to grow career and technical education in support of New Jersey’s economic needs.

“We are launching a program that can keep pace with the rapid developments in advanced manufacturing,” said Michael Dicken, superintendent of Gloucester County Institute of Technology and president of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. “We have a building under construction and a curriculum in place and are now working on marketing the program to high school students — a challenge, given how drastically technology has changed the industry.”

The large footprint of the new Academy of Advanced Manufacturing and Applied Science ensures classrooms have adequate space for the technology students will use as they prepare to enter this evolving field.

When Dicken and his team at GCIT applied for the first round of Career and Technical Expansion grants, they noted an astounding 574 job openings in Gloucester County alone in the manufacturing field. The local need was clear and immediate. And, many employers in Gloucester County and beyond expressed concerns about an aging workforce and increasingly technical skill requirements impeding future plans.

“The strength of our career programs — at all 21 of New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools — is that we welcome the involvement of area employers in the development of our curricula, in the tools we use in our customized classrooms and in the types of internships and other workplace experiences we seek out for our students,” Dicken said. “This is why we are confident our new Academy of Advanced Manufacturing and Applied Science will ease employers’ concerns about building the future workforce. We built this program with them, based on what skills they are seeking in employees.”

Dan Pacifico is heading up GCIT’s new advanced manufacturing program as a teacher of technology and design. He has been instrumental in helping to identify the range of machines needed to provide students with relevant, hands-on training. He said the school’s new building, which is going up on the campus of Rowan College of South Jersey, also will have space to accommodate what he said is a “given” — even newer technologies.

“We are working to convey to high schoolers just how high-tech this industry has become,” Pacifico said. “Robotic programming is used in every manufacturing facility now, which has created a huge demand for robotic operators and programmers. The industry also needs people in data analytics to troubleshoot production issues, as well as with computer-aided drafting and 3D modeling skills and experience operating the various machines. Our program will cover all this and more.”

To help students find the right path, GCIT will use the IGNITE curriculum, which combines self-directed virtual learning with training on real-world equipment. Pacifico became a certified teacher of this curriculum over the summer.

Students can graduate from GCIT’s Academy of Advanced Manufacturing and Applied Science with industry-valued credentials, such as the Smart Automation Certification Alliance, and college credits, to give them even more of a head start toward filling those highly technical roles and finding career success.

An existing manufacturing program at Somerset County Vocational and Technical Schools will soon move into a new state-of-the-art space. ­(Somerset County Vocational and Technical Schools)

GCIT’s advanced manufacturing program will welcome its first cohort of about 50 students in the fall of 2023. When fully enrolled, the four-year program will house 120 to 150 full-time students from grades nine through 12 during the day, with opportunities to add adult programming and college-level programming in the evening.

GCIT is not the only county vocational-technical school district to recognize the need for programs in advanced manufacturing. Many of the Career and Technical Education Expansion grants, awarded over the past two summers, support construction projects to add or expand manufacturing and science, technology, engineering and mathematics-focused programs and add seats for more high school students.

For example, Camden County Technical Schools is adding to its Gloucester Township campus to house a new manufacturing engineering technology program, which will enroll 80 students over the next four years. A new state-of-the-art facility on the Bridgewater campus of Somerset County Vocational and Technical Schools will create more space to grow enrollment in an existing manufacturing program. Union County Vocational-Technical Schools is focusing on creating an instructional space to train students interested in pursuing manufacturing with a specific focus on a food science/food production pathway.

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