NJ Strives to Stay Ahead in Transportation, Logistics, and Distribution

Automation, online tracking, drone delivery, and robotics are among topics and skill sets the state wants education system to help tomorrow’s workers to master

New Jersey’s business and government leaders recognize the value in the state becoming a major center of distribution and logistics, so they are looking for its education system to help New Jersey remain a step ahead. Business leaders say they have plenty of jobs available in this sector and want colleges to evolve, so well-trained workers are available here in the Garden State well into the future.

Business and academic partnerships are already taking place, led by the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Essex County College, but more are being encouraged. These partnerships make sure that college coursework and adult-education programs remain in tune with the industry’s jobs, which often revolve around automation, online tracking, and even robotics.

The warehouse and fulfillment-center field is part of the industry sector known as transportation, logistics, and distribution (TLD. The sector is generating nearly $60 billion in gross-domestic product in the state, which along with its central location on the East Coast, boasts ports, airports, highways, and rail infrastructure.

The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development is making a broad push to better connect some of the state’s leading industries with institutions of higher education in many industries, not just TLD. The state has set an aggressive goal of getting 65 percent of New Jersey’s adult population to have either a college degree or an employer-valued training certificate by 2025. Right now, it’s about 50 percent.

‘Where the economy is going’

“We’re doing this, of course, because that’s where the economy is going,” said Jeff Stoller, assistant commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, during a TLD industry summit that was held at NJIT yesterday.

“The technology is driving us there,” Stoller said.

New Jersey’s economy has been slowly expanding in the wake of the Great Recession, with an estimated 50,000 private-sector jobs added over just the past year. New Jersey’s unemployment rate also measured 4.2 percent as of last month, slightly below the national jobless average of 4.3 percent.

Seven key industries

But more than 70 percent of the state’s overall workforce is now employed in seven key industries that the state has been focusing on as part of its “talent network” program, which attempts to link companies in those industries with education institutions to improve workforce-development efforts. Those industries are advanced manufacturing; construction and utilities; financial services; healthcare; life sciences; retail and hospitality; and TLD.

In all, more than 370,000 New Jersey workers hold jobs in the TLD sector, led by the surging warehousing and storage subsector, which had a net gain of an estimated 7,300 jobs between June 2016 and June 2017, according to the state’s latest figures. And those gains in the warehousing and storage subsector came after a net improvement of roughly 8,500 jobs in the same subsector between June 2006 and June 2016.

The job growth has been fueled by a national shift toward online shopping and e-commerce. In fact, online giant Amazon has opened several facilities in New Jersey in recent years, including in Carteret, Florence, Logan Township, Robbinsville, and Woodbridge, according to a recent report by Moody’s Investors Service. New Amazon facilities are also opening in Cranbury, Edison, and Logan Township, and the company is in the midst of hiring thousands of new employees.

From product security and tracking to “last-mile” delivery, new technologies continue to shape the overall industry, meaning students seeking TLD careers need to keep pace with all of those changes as they get ready to enter the workforce.

“The technology is changing enormously,” said Glenn McRae, a University of Vermont professor who gave the keynote address at yesterday’s summit, which also featured panel discussions and networking.

More than classroom studies

Many successful programs also involve more than just classroom studies, McRae said, with some schools now offering coursework that involves work done in the classroom and inside working facilities.

“It’s not just go to classes for four years anymore,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of learning that has to take place by doing.”

McRae also spoke about TLD training that’s occurring inside correctional facilities and ongoing efforts to move veterans with supply-chain experience into the industry once their military service is complete. And he emphasized that the TLD industry has to look at itself as an exciting place for someone to launch their career, especially as more and more of its existing employees are reaching the age of retirement.

“We really need to grow the talent pool out there so both in the short and long term there are plenty of people (to employ),” he said.

Seven summits

The TLD event was one of seven industry summits that are being held this month as part of the Department of Labor’s overall talent-network program. Similar events are scheduled to be held next week at Rutgers University for healthcare, NJIT for advanced manufacturing, and Middlesex County College for financial services.

The state, meanwhile, is also making more than $8 million available for grants during the 2018 fiscal year that will be awarded to institutions seeking to become a designated “talent development center” in one of the seven key industries. Public colleges and universities, including two-year community colleges, and independent not-for-profit colleges and universities, are all eligible to receive a state grant through the program, which is linked with the state’s overall “65 by 25” degree and training-certificate initiative.

“In a rapidly changing, global economy, we must continue to build a skilled and trained workforce and bolstering the great work of the Talent Development Centers will help further the vital role our state’s colleges and universities play in shaping New Jersey’s economic future,” Labor Commissioner Aaron Fichtner said.