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A hands-on approach

NJMEP Trains the next generation of manufacturers

A North Jersey veteran in his late 20s who was working the night processing shift at UPS — without much growth potential — wanted make a career change into the growing advanced manufacturing segment, recounted Patti Moran, director of apprenticeship programs at the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program Inc., a Cedar Knolls-based not–for-profit organization.

“The problem was, he didn’t have any manufacturing background,” she said. “Fortunately, after reading about some apprenticeship programs, he was motivated enough to contact the U.S. Department of Labor, which referred him to us. In September we placed him in a salaried apprenticeship program.”

Backed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NJMEP focuses on improving the profitability and competitiveness of New Jersey’s manufacturers. As part of its mandate, NJMEP operates an 18-month apprenticeship program, in conjunction with a series of New Jersey companies, where they get on-the-job training and about 33 sessions of once-a-week supplementary classroom instruction. Employers benefit by getting motivated, screened employees, while jobseekers benefit by getting well-paid positions with a good future.

Peter Okun, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, and Patricia Moran, Director of Apprenticeships, New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program. – AARON HOUSTON

A second chance

By 2028, the U.S. will need to fill 4.6 million manufacturing jobs, due to a combination of growth — nearly 2.7 million new positions — and retirement, with nearly 1.7 million workers projected to retire, according to a Deloitte study. But only about 2.2 million applicants are likely to step forward and take on those jobs.

New Jersey’s situation is also ringing alarms. There are currently about 360,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs, according to NJMEP, which is trying to narrow the gap. “We’re working with a lot of dynamic manufacturing companies in New Jersey, and trying to match them up with candidates, and we’re trying to let more people know why manufacturing is an attractive career option,” according to NJMEP Director of Business Development Sally White. “Today we have 11,130 manufacturing firms, and 5,149 STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) firms in the state, and we’re all trying to zero in on training the new generation of students for jobs that are available today and will be available in the future.”

Executives like Gail Friedberg Rottenstrich appreciate NJMEP’s efforts. The Chief Executive Officer of Zago Manufacturing, Friedberg Rottenstrich and her husband, Zahavy Rottenstrich, launched the Newark-based company — which manufactures self-sealing screws, nuts and other components that resist dirt, water and other contaminants that can harm sensitive devices — in January 1993. The 22-employee business has some fully automated and semi-automated machines, but still needs skilled workers.

Employment obstacles

“We don’t have a hard time retaining existing employees, because we offer a robust package of benefits,” she said. “But it is hard to bring in new employees, because the pool of talent is limited. They’re often immigrants who got their experience in their home country, or high-school graduates who we sent on to community college for [advanced manufacturing] education.”

She’s concerned about immigration restrictions — her husband is originally from Israel — and noted that “we need more than just immigrants with a Ph.D. or a master’s degree. We need to get more people from other countries who have middle-market skills and a strong work ethic. In the U.S., we should create more apprentice programs, like the ones NJMEP and some educational institutions offer.”

A Day of Recognition

On Oct. 4, as part of National Manufacturing Day the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program Inc. will celebrate New Jersey manufacturers with “Made in New Jersey” Manufacturing Day.

Manufacturers “create jobs through entrepreneurship, and their competitiveness revitalizes American manufacturing,” NJMEP said in a statement. “National Manufacturing Day aims to empower manufacturers, change public perception about the industry, highlight its economic impacts, and introduce more people to available career opportunities.”

During the eighth annual event — which will be held at The Marigold in Somerset — winners of the New Jersey Manufacturer of the Year Award in a variety of categories will be announced. The awards recognize manufacturing companies that demonstrate industry leadership, innovation, growth through revenues or profits, and a commitment to the growth and development of its employees and communities.

“New Jersey manufacturers open their doors and take up the important work of inspiring our young people to pursue careers in manufacturing and engineering,” according to the NJMEP. “Today’s science, technology, engineering, and math graduates will power the next chapter of American production and innovation, and harnessing their potential is an economic imperative.”

In June, the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced it will receive some $1.7 million over the next three years through a the federal Apprenticeship State Expansion grant. Part of the money will be earmarked for advanced manufacturing educational efforts, with recipients that include eight community colleges — among them the County College of Morris — and the New Jersey Institute of Technology in a partnership led by the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

NJMEP’s own apprenticeship efforts got a boost in February, when the organization announced it received a $600,000 grant — through the state’s Growing Apprenticeships in New Sectors program — to launch and support the Pro-Action Education Network Apprenticeship Program.

The organization plans to use the money as part of a three-year, $2 million outreach program to help fund some 170 “high-demand, high growth apprenticeships” across 139 manufacturing companies.

“The proposed project will scale existing and grow new apprentices in two industry sectors: Advanced Manufacturing, and Transportation, Logistics and Distribution,” according to an NJMEP announcement. “NJMEP will expand immediately into three registered apprenticeship programs approved or under final review by USDOL (Department of Labor). They will also facilitate approval of at least two additional registered apprenticeships in Computer Numerical Control (CNC), and Food Production Safety.”

“This will now allow us to expand apprenticeships programs within the critical Manufacturing and TLD Sectors with an initial focus on Trenton, Newark and Paterson,” Moran said. “We will be able to offer opportunities and up-skill those already employed in these industries to bolster the sector’s competitiveness.”

“Apprenticeships are a key element in the state’s agenda to help close the skills gap, revitalize manufacturing and increase the state’s supply chain competitiveness,” said NJMEP CEO John W. Kennedy, at the time of the announcement. “We are thrilled to be recognized as a leader in this area.”

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