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Op-Ed: ‘Yes’ to Ballot Question Will Help Vo-Techs, Colleges Fuel NJ Economy

Bond on November ballot would support programs that address the skills gap in New Jersey

Judy Savage & Aaron Fichtner
Judy Savage and Aaron Fichtner

New Jersey has long benefited from having one of the most skilled, productive and innovative workforces in the country. For our state to remain competitive with states, cities and nations around the globe, we must provide high school, college, and adult students with pathways to well-paying, 21st century technical careers.

But too many employers in our state’s key industries struggle to find employees with the technical skills needed to succeed in a technology-driven economy. This skills gap is a significant barrier to economic growth in New Jersey.

Our state’s 21 county vocational-technical schools prepare more than 33,000 high school students for careers as well as higher education. And New Jersey’s 19 community colleges serve over 340,000 students annually, providing high quality, affordable access to degree, certificate and licensure programs that change lives for the better.

Together, our counties’ vocational-technical schools and community colleges are valuable assets that provide in-demand skills and socioeconomic mobility to people throughout the state. Expanding partnerships between our county educational institutions will strengthen New Jersey’s future workforce, while addressing concerns about college affordability and the growing demand for alternatives to a four-year degree.

It’s already happening in Morris County

For example, the Morris County Vocational School District has partnered with the County College of Morris to offer new programs in cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing that directly respond to the needs of regional employers. High school students get a headstart on technical skills, industry certifications, and college credits — at no cost to their families. When they graduate, students can go right into a well-paying job, complete an associate degree in less than a year, or choose to pursue a four-year degree.

The Securing Our Children’s Future bond referendum on the November ballot will support more successful workforce programs like this in counties across New Jersey.

If approved by voters, the ballot question will authorize borrowing $500 million for vocational-technical school and community college facilities, and for critical investments in K-12 school district security infrastructure and drinking water systems to keep students safe and healthy.

County vocational-technical schools and community colleges will use funds to expand and equip facilities for high-demand programs that address New Jersey’s skills gap in key industries like manufacturing, logistics and distribution, auto technology, aviation, medical technology, construction, and clean energy, so that more young people and adults can be prepared for these well-paying careers. Priority will be given to partnerships between schools, colleges and employers that lead to credentials as well as degrees.

As a state we are uniquely positioned for economic growth, but only if we invest properly in our future workforce to prepare the next generation with the skills needed for career success. The public question on the November ballot will help students, employers, and all New Jerseyans secure our state’s promising future.

Judy Savage is the executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.

Aaron Fichtner, Ph.D. is the president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges.

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