The disconnect between employers who need experienced workers and recent graduates who need work experience ranks among the most difficult economic conundrums. The state Department of Labor now offers two ways to bridge the gap.
The agency’s Many Paths, One Future Internship Grant Program offsets some of the costs employers incur when they hire paid interns from colleges and high schools. The Department of Labor reimburses companies 50 percent of the wages they pay up to $1,500 per student. Companies in the financial services, health care, retail, hospitality and tourism, construction and utilities, life sciences, technology, transportation, logistics and distribution, and advanced manufacturing sectors are eligible to participate.
The goal is to have students gain experience and education to be marketable in the job market. “We found students lacked the experience component,” said Melinda Benson, the business services coordinator at the Labor Department. “This program allows employers to bring on interns. This could be the students’ first job.”
Patricia Moran, director of apprenticeship programs at the nonprofit New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, helped establish the Many Paths, One Future program while she was working at the Labor Department.
“This program was established because many students who graduated from college did not bother in their four years to get an internship,” Moran said. “They did not bother to have meaningful discussions about an activity they did when they went for an interview. Therefore, they could not speak intelligently about something they did at a work site.”
The program can also clear up misconceptions about manufacturing. Some students might be interested in the industry but do not want to work on an assembly line, Moran said. Her colleague Peter Okun, director of marketing at the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, noted that manufacturers require professional salespeople to sell their products.
Students can apply on the Labor Department’s web site. Within one week the employer and the educational institution receive a determination letter and the Department of Labor creates a contract that the employer acknowledges. To be eligible, employers cannot have an outstanding tax liability.
The agency launched the program on May 1, 2017, and has processed 725 applications. Employers can use the program for up to two rounds of wage reimbursement.
The Labor Department also offers a Career Accelerator Program that pays employers up to $3,000 for wages per student. The program is open to people pursuing jobs in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, or STEM sectors. It was launched separately because Gov. Phil Murphy is prioritizing STEM education.
“A lot of people are not familiar with the fact that both programs are running simultaneously,” Benson said. “This helps students not to be burdened with the cost. Our goal is to provide job experience. But we felt like there was a definite lack of experience. These opportunities will assist students to be marketable.”
Gov. Murphy signed a bill into law in December 2018 establishing a STEM Loan Redemption Program within the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. This program provides graduates of New Jersey colleges and universities employed in STEM fields with $1,000 each year for a maximum of four years toward their student loans, which will be matched by the participant’s employer. According to Murphy’s office, he proposed STEM loan forgiveness during his gubernatorial campaign and in his budget message as part of his vision to expand the innovation economy.
“Providing relief to graduates of our world-class STEM degree programs has been a priority of mine since I began my campaign for elected office,” Murphy said in a statement in December 2018. “I am pleased that the Legislature agreed with us on the need to ensure that current and future generations of highly-skilled workers and innovators are incentivized to live and work in New Jersey.”