Could apprenticeships be the key to closing NJ’s wage gap?

Sen. Teresa Ruiz is hoping to give New Jersey workers a pathway to employment.

“We came up with a group of bills, an apprenticeship package that really aims at engaging a base that’s been underrepresented in high growth industry and creating pathways of inclusion,” Ruiz said. “The base are minority women and men, disabled individuals, veterans.”

The bills reflect a recent report from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. Author Demelza Baer looked closely at economic realities that exist in New Jersey.

“New Jersey unfortunately has some of the worst disparities on the economic side for people of color in the country,” said Baer. “We’re ranked last in terms of pay equity. Black women have one of the top 10 worst pay equity rates in the country. Latina women have the worst pay disparity in the country in New Jersey.”

They’re findings that Ruiz says she took into account in her plan.

“We really have to think about, what are the barriers, what’s has been systemically keeping certain groups from accessing income growth?” asked Ruiz. “I think apprenticeship programs of course are part of the answer. For the industries it’s really much on creating some kind of tax incentive. For the individual, we’re thinking about the adult who needs child care. We’re thinking about the adult who doesn’t have access to transportation.”

The plan focuses on getting individuals into high-growth sectors that create greater opportunity for upward mobility.

“I think often times when we think about apprenticeship programs, we just get focused on trades and union labor on those pathways. The truth of the matter is that the financial industry, in our STEM-related fields, in applied health, the workforce does not represent New Jersey as a whole,” Ruiz said.

For the first time in decades, both in New Jersey and across the country, companies are facing a worker shortage. They simply can’t find the skilled laborers to fill the job openings. Couple that with the fact that the country is experiencing income inequality not seen since the Great Depression. Experts say that’s where apprenticeship programs come in, bridging the gap between the unemployed and a skilled workforce.

“For a government investment of about $1,000, there’s a return of almost $50,000,”said Baer.”when you ave the government supporting that by creating these career pathways for people, it really a win-win for state residents, for business, and of course for taxpayers because there’s more businesses and people paying into the system.”

The bills are headed to the Senate Labor Committee for consideration.