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(a lot of) Help wanted

Vocational training programs strive to meet the need for more workers in skilled trades

As Baby Boomers retire from the workforce, many skilled trades need to train more people in these fields.

The New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development projects the following skilled trades need more people to join their ranks: construction laborers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters, heating/air conditioning/refrigeration mechanics, industrial machinery mechanics, bus/truck/diesel engine mechanics, operating engineers, cement masons, concrete finishers, roofers, sheet metal workers, iron workers, and steel workers.

These occupations require vocational training, technical training or apprenticeships and too few people are getting into the act.

Construction laborers earned an average salary of $53,540 per year in 2018, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The agency estimates that there will be 3,590 job openings in construction each year for the years 2016 to 2026.

Electricians earned an average salary of $71,660 per year in 2018. The state projects 2,350 job openings for electricians per year for the years 2016 to 2026.

Carpenters earned an average salary of $63,230 per year in 2018. The state projects 2,560 job openings in carpenters per year for the years 2016 to 2026.

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters earned an average salary of $71,370 per year in 2018. The state projects these occupations will have to fill 1,360 job openings per year for the years 2016 to 2026.

Automotive service technicians and mechanics earned an average salary of $48,620 per year in 2018.

The state projects 1,680 job openings per year for the years 2016 to 2026.

Nick DeMatteo, Robert Paganini and Jack Kocsis are some of the people trying to fill those jobs.

Building for the future

DeMatteo is executive director of the Northeast Carpenters Apprentice Fund, which is training 1,400 apprentices in Edison and Hammonton. The fund built a new facility in Edison in March 2018 to train commercial carpenters, and other trades professionals. The program takes four years and the apprenticeships are paid.

Nick DeMatteo, executive director, Northeast Carpenters Apprentice Fund. - AARON HOUSTON


“Generally, it is demanding work,” DeMatteo said. “They have to be reliable. We literally do not have enough people to meet the demand.”

He said that employers compete for the top apprentices. “It is a phenomenal program,” DeMatteo said. “There are a lot of journeymen earning at least $100,000 annually.”

Apprentices face such challenges as laboring in unpleasant weather and lifting heavy materials.

“The more flexible you are with the geography, the better,” DeMatteo said. “Apprentices are 50 feet in the air or out in the mud. They are in the weather. Drywall weighs 80 pounds. It is physically demanding.”

The road to success

Paganini is the campus president of Lincoln Tech in Mahwah. Lincoln Tech provides occupational training in automotive, heating/ventilation/air conditioning, and computer numerical control manufacturing.

“We are fighting the perception that you need to go to college to be successful,” Paganini said. “At Lincoln Tech, we show that you can be successful in the skilled trades. Our graduates go on to make a good living.”

Lincoln enrolls 650 students and offers a department to help its students and graduates find occupations.

“As dealerships open, they need more people,” Paganini said. “There is a phenomenal demand for automotive professionals. These vehicles are technologically advanced, it takes people to fix them. We are seeing fewer younger kids being excited about being backyard mechanics.”

Seeking diversity

Jack Kocsis is the chief executive officer of the Associated Construction Contractors of New Jersey, an organization that negotiates collective bargaining agreements of carpenters, laborers, operating engineers, iron workers, teamsters, tile-setters, and brick-layers. His problem is a bit different.

Jack Kocsis, CEO, Associated Construction Contractors of New Jersey (ACCNJ). - AARON HOUSTON


“We are doing everything we can to attract a diverse workforce to the unionized skilled trades,” Kocsis said. “We have people who sleep overnight to get an application. We have carpenters who wait around the block. Trades train new apprentices to meet future needs. We have been at this for quite a few years.”
Kocsis said his members are able to fill their positions.

“One thing labor and management agree on is having the appropriate number of trained professionals to meet our needs,” Kocsis said. “We will not see a shortage of skilled tradespeople because we are anticipating what our needs are going to be and we are making sure we are matching our training opportunities with that.”

Not everyone is suited to go to college, he said. Skilled trades require apprenticeship training, rather than a bachelor’s degree, he said.

“We see a good number of kids graduating from high school and picking construction,” Kocsis said.

“Even if you are going to college, it does not mean you are not going to enter the trades. We see kids go through college and come back to the industry after a few years.”

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

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