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Paths not always taken

The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program uses a $596,000 grant to promote apprenticeships

The idea of pursuing an apprenticeship may sound archaic — a relic from the days of blacksmiths and coopers. But in the modern business world an apprenticeship is an employer-driven program that combines on-the-job learning with job-related instruction to build skills and establish pathways to higher levels of employment and wages.

Patricia Moran, director of apprenticeship programs at the nonprofit New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, touts apprenticeship opportunities as a viable option that leads to high-paying careers.

“Manufacturers have been screaming about the skills shortages for 10 to 15 years,” Moran said. “‘We can’t find people to meet our needs. We don’t have anybody with hands-on skills. We don’t have technicians in the field.’”

Gov. Phil Murphy announced grant awards on Feb. 11 totaling $2.8 million to seven New Jersey businesses, colleges and other organizations for training programs that will employ 480 new apprentices within the next 12 months. The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program received $596,000 through the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Growing Apprenticeship in Nontraditional Sectors program. Hiring will begin in April 2019.

“I teach at night so I see apprenticeship as an alternative career pathway for students,” Moran said. “They can earn the national credential. They can get into the middle class. They can eventually get credit for that learning and proceed on to another career.”

New Jersey apprenticeships are governed by the U.S. Department of Labor, Moran said. NJMEP offers apprenticeships in technical sales, industrial manufacturing production and certified logistics technicians. The first two programs are the focus of the grant, Moran said.

“The industrial manufacturing production technician is key to a lot of our manufacturers who are always complaining they cannot find a skilled workforce,” Moran said. “The on-the-job training is customized for the employer.”

Moran, a former director of training at the Ford Motor Plant in Edison, points out that apprentices complete their training with no student debt. “They are getting paid to do technical instruction.”

The NJMEP will give a test to vocational technical school graduates. Depending on how these students score, the extension program will direct them into apprenticeships or pre-apprenticeships, Moran said.

“In our first cohort we are taking employees who are already employed with companies to put into the program,” Moran said. “They will come here to do related technical instruction. Not everyone is meant to go to college.” But she said she thinks the program will also increase the graduation rates at community colleges.

The five components of a registered apprenticeship are business involvement, structured on-the-job training, related instruction, rewards for skill gains, and national occupational credentials.

Peter Okun, director of marketing and public relations at the NJMEP, explained the organization’s pro-action education network will connect all the training options with labor market demand.  “NJMEP is going to be the third-party intermediary that aligns the interests of employers, education providers, and students,” he said.

“This is a scalable platform,” Okun added. “It is going to prepare students and workers to fill open positions that effect the growth of companies. It will refresh the skills of incumbent workers so that they remain competitive. It will allow them to assess the demand for education and training across the different institutions and help facilitate collaboration across education and workforce development stake-holders.”

Moran described the NJMEP as the hub that will direct students into apprenticeships, pre-apprenticeships, or community college.

“The purpose of this grant is to grow the existing number of apprenticeship programs that already exist,” Moran said.

David Hutter
David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at: dhutter@njbiz.com.

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