Middlesex County can largely be seen as a microcosm mirroring some of the key cultural and economic trends of the entire state. One such example – albeit on a smaller scale – is the impact of automation, and a new report from the Rutgers John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development shows just how much that trend between the state and county plays out.
Middlesex County boasts over 829,000 residents, and hundreds of thousands more students and visitor workers who travel to the county on a near-daily basis.
The Heldrich study, “Middlesex County Economic and Workforce Competitiveness Project,” shows the poverty rate at 8.58 percent compared to the state rate of 9.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And county residents speak 51 languages other than English at home, according to the study.
Forty-two percent of county residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 38.1 percent of all New Jersey residents. And the median household income in the county is $85,337, compared to the statewide average of $76,475.
Although the county has fared better than the state, business owners at the Middlesex County 2019 Business Summit on Tuesday morning pointed to a variety of trends in the labor pool, which they felt were playing out statewide.
Over the next decade, the county could see a net job growth between 5 and 10 percent due to automation, and a 23 percent increase in job loss.
“What will happen in the future of work, which jobs are going to be most at risk are primarily food industry, food service delivery and in retail?” asked Carl Van Horn, the Heldrich Center’s director.
“We need to help make sure that people finish high school, get an equivalency degree, go into training in county college, or a… program that enables them to move into the economy,” Van Horn added.
The county would be well-positioned, given its abundance of vo-tech schools, Middlesex County College and Rutgers University.
“We have to make sure that our workforce is prepared for the future, and not just be reactive,” Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ron Rios said at the summit.
The notion is nothing new — the state labor department has a workforce development component for that sole purpose.
“Workforce development aims to reach our entire working occupation by… offering training for unemployed, underemployed and dislocated workers,” said Kenneth Armwood, another county freeholder.
It comes down to getting “businesses and academia together” to “ask businesses to be at the center of the table in identifying what their needs are,” Michele Siekerka, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said at the summit. “Then, we partner them with academia to deliver those types of programs in real time,” she added.