We hear a great deal of conversation regarding the need for our young citizens to gain higher education because expanding one’s educational horizons gives a person greater probability of increased income and diverse career choices. Study after study shows that over a lifetime, the person with more education will out earn someone who has less education.
However, there is an important corollary to this because “higher education” shouldn’t necessarily apply only to a traditional college degree. Higher education takes many forms.
One of these forms is “earning” a degree in a trade that commands a high skill level. It is not an exaggeration to contend that the skill level of a trade or specialized training can equal or even exceed some “higher education” curriculums. Oftentimes, one of the main conduits to this educational experience is an apprenticeship program.
The advantage to an apprenticeship program can be significant. For example, students often earn while they learn, and frequently they enter industries where employers are scrambling for workers with their talents. The added plus is many of them graduate from the apprenticeship programs with no college debt.
I am intimately familiar with one example of this “higher education”, the union carpenters in New Jersey. As a member of the organization and a trustee to several apprenticeship programs, I help administer the rigorous five-year apprentice program. Instruction includes classroom and on-the-job training. And to maintain their edge in the workplace, they often return for refresher courses.
Let me be clear though, apprenticeships are not simply union-only training programs. The overwhelming number of United States Department of Labor certified programs carry no union affiliation at all. They are simply proven educational models that work to prepare our modern day workforce for the jobs of today and beyond.
The five years of training in the carpenters union program might not be identical to a more typical college classroom, but they certainly are real world, the lament of many companies when hiring budding talent. The key to this hands-on educational approach is to make apprenticeship programs more widely available to New Jersey residents. That is why I have been working to promote and expand these opportunities throughout New Jersey.
We are not alone in this approach. A variety of forward-looking states — Connecticut, California – already has a form of state funding for apprenticeships. Minnesota provides an example of how to create a partnership with the business community, while Kentucky and Wisconsin have demonstrated a solid approach to pre-apprenticeship programs, exposing potential talent to a productive and well-paying career.
Can New Jersey, with a wealth of talent and resources, do less? I think not. I believe with programs that have access to reasonable funding and to which our citizens, legislative leaders and the business community support, we can formulate a plan to encourage and fortify a skilled and educated labor force for the future.
For that reason, I have put forth several proposals that directly assist those who might choose to become more skilled in today’s marketplace. A334, would deliver the backbone for an improved climate of workforce development. It would provide funding to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development that would disperse those monies to One Stop Career Centers for the promotion of apprenticeships and apprenticeship programs in an accredited program.
I recognize that the success of any apprenticeship workforce program rests on its acceptance from the business community. After all, we must be mindful of the other side of the coin, the employer, plays a vital role in closing the circle of employment. Therefore, I have also authored A335, which serves as an incentive for businesses to employ eligible apprentices. Businesses that participate would receive business and gross income tax credits.
Finally, to spur continued interest in maintaining and indeed expanding our manufacturing base, I have also introduced A3273. This bill would provide for establishing manufacturing machine and metal trade apprenticeship tax credit programs.
Apprenticeships are a win-win for those looking to begin a career and for employers seeking talent that will take their businesses to the next level. This legislative initiative will help provide New Jersey residents with the knowledge and skills they need to compete and succeed in the 21st century global economy while allowing employers to benefit from the increased productivity of trained workers. That’s my take, what’s yours?