Addressing a seemingly never-ending shortfall of skilled labor, the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program has helped raise skill levels of employees and recruits for some 5,000 manufacturers and other companies operating in the state during the past 18 years.
The program has helped create or retain more than 31,000 jobs in New Jersey since its launch in 2000, NJMEP CEO John Kennedy said, but the need for its training curriculum continues to expand.
“It is critical for New Jersey to use all its tools in this area,” Kennedy said. “This is a constant battle as the need for higher-trained individuals increases.”
The program originally was funded one-third from federal sources, one-third from state sources and one-third internally, he said.
“But since the last recession New Jersey has not been able to fund us directly,” Kennedy said. “We do hope to change this in the future, as with over 11,000 companies in our care the more people we have engaging and assisting the better.”
So how does the program work?
Torsten Schimanski, director of training and apprenticeship at the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, meets with manufacturing companies to find out what they need in the way of employee skills development. Schimanski then matches manufacturers’ needs with programs offered by the state Department of Labor or colleges and trade schools around the state.
“We have 360,000 manufacturing jobs in New Jersey [and] about 50 percent are at risk of not being filled because of the skills gap,” Schimanski said. “We have applicants who are unprepared for the demands of advanced manufacturing.
“[State residents] are not aware of how strong manufacturing is in New Jersey. We are making manufacturing more transparent. We are getting students excited about technology.”
Ace Electronics partner Sue Di Vila said she’s using the program to find qualified candidates for a range of positions. She noted even sales positions require some knowledge of technical processes.
“Manufacturing has a lot of moving parts and can be very hectic at times, staying on top of all aspects of a sale,” Di Vila said. “It’s not always easy to find a sales executive with production- [and] manufacturing-related backgrounds.”
ZaGO Manufacturing, which markets four sealing-product lines, uses the extension program to train its technical sales people. The Newark-based company also is interviewing workers referred to ZaGO by the program.
“NJMEP is a terrific resource and helped us move our company forward in a myriad of ways,” ZaGO Vice President Gail Friedberg said.
Thomas Edison State University is one of several campuses throughout New Jersey with which NJMEP partners to develop classroom or online curriculum.
“The university works closely with the subject matter experts at NJMEP and their consultants to develop the hard skills such as food safety and other industry-specific skills for online delivery to the New Jersey workforce,” said Bob Herbst, executive director for continuing and professional studies at Thomas Edison.
“We always push toward innovative practices that keep us moving forward in our approach,” NJMEP’s Kennedy said. “This all helps us help the companies that drive our state’s economy.”