An Assembly panel recently advanced legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D., Bob Andrzejczak, Joseph Lagana, Carmelo G. Garcia and Gabriela Mosquera to help train and equip the struggling unemployed with the skills necessary to find work in new industries.
"As New Jersey's economic recovery continues to lag behind our neighboring states, we have to be more aggressive in our approach to boosting jobs and economic opportunity in our state," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "This is an excellent way to help train people with employable skill sets swiftly so that they can get back into the work force as soon as possible."
Specifically, the bill (A-3021) directs the Secretary of Higher Education - in consultation with the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, the county colleges, county vocational school districts and the Adult Education-High School Equivalency Office in the Department of Education - to design and implement a pilot program to help eligible adults obtain a career or technical certificate on an accelerated schedule in order to enter or re-enter the workforce.
"This bill will help us achieve two key objectives - equipping struggling workers with the skills they need to find employment again while providing businesses and industries with more skilled and qualified workers," said Conaway (D-Burlington).
The pilot program would be available to a "qualified displaced worker" or a "qualified disadvantaged worker," as defined under the "1992 New Jersey Employment and Workforce Development Act," who lacks appropriate mathematical, literacy or technical skills.
"This program would be a huge boost for an area like Atlantic City where you have thousands of recently unemployed workers, many of whom held the same job for years and now need to find a new skill set due to the casino closings," said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland).
The pilot program must include at least 20 certificate programs and the time to complete a program may not exceed 12 months. Under the pilot program, at least 10 certificate programs must be developed and offered by the fall semester of the 2015-2016 academic year and at least 10 additional certificate programs must be offered by the spring semester of the 2016-2017 academic year.
The bill dedicates through Fiscal Year 2020 a portion of the revenue in the Workforce Development Partnership Fund reserved for employment and training to fund the pilot program.
"The American ideal used to be that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you would be able to provide for your family," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "That's not always the case in this ever-changing economy. so we need to find ways to train our workers to adapt to the industries offering good-paying, available jobs."
A county college, a county vocational school district, or an adult education program operated in cooperation with the Department of Education or the Department of Labor and Workforce Development may choose to participate in the pilot program by implementing one or more of the certificate programs.
"Since the recession, we've seen far too many chronically unemployed people struggling to find work because the skills they once relied on are no longer as in demand in this new economy," said Garcia (D-Hudson). "This will help make them more marketable in the current workforce."
"Ultimately, this bill will help provide struggling workers and the unemployed with the knowledge and skills they need to find gainful employment in today's economy," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). "At the same time, this will also be a shot in the arm for our business community."
Additionally, the bill directs the Secretary of Higher Education to submit a report to the governor and the legislature no later than January 1, 2020 that evaluates the results of the pilot program and its effectiveness in assisting program participants in entering or re-entering the workforce or in obtaining better employment. The report will also include a recommendation on the advisability of the program's continuation and extension to additional certificate and technical programs.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday.