Apprenticeships can help those who see the American Dream slipping away



Senior Counsel Jayne Johnson, Esq. writes for

New Jersey has the shameful distinction of being home to more than a dozen of the wealthiest communities in the country, while ranking 12th highest in the nation for income inequality, according to 2012-2016 U.S. Census data. Indeed, in contrast to the prosperity of many New Jersey communities, about four-in-10 households in the Garden State live month-to-month —unable to afford basic necessities including rent, groceries, health care, transportation and child care.

There are many approaches to addressing these inequities. One — creating a more robust apprenticeship program in our state — has the rare qualities of being non-controversial, easily achieved, and a triple win for New Jersey’s workers, businesses, and economy. A slate of bills aimed at making this happen is sitting on the legislature’s docket, close to becoming law. This week — National Apprenticeship Week — is a perfect time to bring it over the finish line.

The economic divide in New Jersey is due in large part to the growing gap between highly-educated, specially trained workers who are receiving a greater share of income gains and low-wage workers in New Jersey whose hopes for attaining the American Dream is slipping away.

Middle-skill positions offering a living wage without requiring post-secondary training or education are dwindling as companies downsize or move production overseas; emerging middle-skill positions also require post-secondary training or education. Many of New Jersey’s workers, who are unemployed or underemployed — working part-time, but seeking full-time work —whose income is not keeping up with inflation, need additional training to acquire the skills required of higher-wage positions.

With the increase in the minimum wage and the reduction in unemployment rates, New Jersey is moving in the right direction; however, more must be done to close the skills and income gap.

In response to this growing gap, a package of 10 bills, aimed to expand middle-skill job training opportunities in high-growth industries, is currently pending in the New Jersey Legislature. Championed by State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz and sponsored by several Assembly members, including John Armato, Daniel R. Benson, Wayne P. DeAngelo, Pamela R. Lampitt, Raj Mukherji, and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, these bills will make New Jersey a model for inclusive apprenticeships that advance economic opportunity for New Jersey’s workers and businesses.

Apprenticeships offer paid on-the-job training and classroom instruction, and, upon completion, an industry-recognized credential, certificate or degree. Although apprenticeships are commonly associated with the skilled trades, apprenticeship programs — achieved through public/private partnerships — can be incorporated into nearly every industry, including high-growth industries like biopharmaceuticals, logistics, finance, transportation and healthcare.

Apprenticeships are also one of the most productive forms of government investments, offering considerable financial benefits to businesses, workers and society. With an average government investment of less than $1,000 per worker in a federally registered apprenticeship program, states realize an average net social benefit of $49,427 over the career of an apprentice in the form of increased tax receipts and reduced use of public assistance. And these programs pay off in dividends for each worker: 91% of apprentices find work upon completing a program at an average annual salary of about $60,000.

Program success is dependent on the ability to incentivize business participation and reduce barriers to employment. The pending legislative package provides tax credits and grants to offset apprenticeship start-up costs and offers businesses tax credits for each employee in a registered apprenticeship program. It’s designed to help dislocated and displaced workers and advance racial equity and economic opportunity in New Jersey by extending the reach of the state’s apprenticeships to youth, women, people of color and people with disabilities.

The legislation also supports the state’s efforts to regain a leadership position in the innovation economy by advancing the goals of the existing New Jersey Apprenticeship Network — which is created to support apprenticeships in high-growth industries.

Our veterans, military personnel transitioning from active duty and entering the private sector are well-positioned to benefit from this package of bills. Under this legislation, veterans may use their GI Bill benefits to enroll in a job training program, earning industry-recognized credentials at little to no cost to the service member.

As the nation celebrates the impact of apprenticeship programs on closing the skills gap, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, along with dozens of advocates and nonprofits across the state, urge New Jersey legislators to pass the slate of apprenticeship bills. Please join us by contacting your legislators!

Jayne Johnson serves as senior counsel at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, where her work focuses on solution-focused research and policy to enhance the economic mobility of New Jersey residents.


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