Read this article as it originally appeared July 30, 2021 in The Press of Atlantic City.
Perhaps because it was thoroughly expected, and partly because so many other issues and stories demanded more immediate attention, New Jersey’s recent investment in the workers of the future hasn’t caused a stir.
This is a big deal right now especially, with countless jobs across the nation unfilled because those who want the better pay, benefits and career path they offer don’t have the needed training and skills.
Following up on the 2018 approval by voters of funding to help expand programs and facilities in New Jersey’s 15 county vocational-technical school districts, the Legislature passed and Gov. Phil Murphy signed $220 million in grants for 17 projects in those districts.
“The approval of these projects is a tremendous step forward for students, employers and New Jersey’s economy,” said Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “This much-needed expansion of career and technical education responds to the needs of employers who consistently struggle to fill well-paying, career-track technical jobs.”
The expansion funding is an especially big deal in Atlantic County, which received the largest grant in the state, $40 million. The county is adding $13.5 million — a bargain it couldn’t refuse, as we’ve said — for a $53.5 million expansion of the Atlantic County Institute of Technology, or ACIT.
This will include renovations, additions and the construction of a new building that ACIT Superintendent Phil Guenther said will serve the school’s health sciences programs.
New and expanded programs to meet local workforce needs will include aviation maintenance, advanced manufacturing and welding, and hospitality, including culinary arts.
The expansion will allow ACIT to admit an additional 425 students a year, serving most of the families who have sought to enroll students but been denied due to a lack of capacity.
Vo-tech schools throughout the state will get significant funds — including $4.3 million for Cape May County Technical High School and $2.25 million for Cumberland County Technical Education Center. Gloucester County Institute of Technology will use its funds to establish an applied science and advanced manufacturing building on the nearby campus of Rowan College of South Jersey for use by both schools, according to ROI.com.
All told, the projects funded are expected to add 4,870 openings for students at career and technical schools over the next six years.
Politicians have overused and misused the word “investment” to justify too much spending that gratifies their immediate interests, but these boosts in practical preparation for existing and future work will truly generate returns for New Jersey’s families and economy for many years.