For the first WorkingNation Town Hall, there may have been no better site than New Jersey to play host and provide context to the skills gap which threatens employment nationwide.

New Start Career Network director Maria Heidkamp joins the panel. Photo – Jonathan Barenboim

Asbury Park Press reporter Michael Diamond used the WorkingNation and John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University August 8 Town Hall as a springboard for examining the wider issues surrounding the state of unemployment in the currently robust New Jersey economy.

Despite its low 4.1 unemployment rate, New Jersey still has a workforce which is on the sidelines —9.5 percent the APP reports— when adding workers who are making ends meet through part-time work or dropping out of the job hunt entirely. On the other side, employers are struggling to find skilled workers to fill their available spots.

RELATED STORY: WorkingNation & Heldrich Center Town Hall raises awareness of the mid-career workforce skills gap

Diamond interviewed job seekers and employers who explained the struggles of workers displaced by automation and global economic forces to rejoin the workforce. The job seekers said that employers are too picky and unwilling to train up new employees who may be lacking the specific skill sets required for these positions.

Employers, like Monmouth Glass, told the APP that the jobs are out there (for example, a glazier job which offers a livable hourly wage) but qualified applicants are few and far between.

But, as Diamond notes, the accelerating pace of technological advancement comes with more risks than just low-skilled workers becoming obsolete, educated middle-class workers will suffer too. The website included WorkingNation’s animated short, Slope of the Curve, which illustrates this point and served as the preamble to the town hall.

We are at the point in history where the pace is almost beyond human capacity to catch up. Our town hall panel, consisting of business leaders and academic experts, discussed solutions already at work in the state (like Rutgers’ New Start Career Network) as a pathway to closing this gap.

Diamond also points out other state initiatives and proposals to increase funding for vocational training and to boost the number of residents with post-secondary degrees or certifications, like Governor Chris Christie’s “Many Paths, One Future” internship grant program.

With New Jersey as a ground zero for the skills gap crisis, it is also a laboratory for solutions. Bridging this gap will require continuing the dialogue from our town hall and getting mid-career workers re-skilled for the technical jobs in the state though government-sponsored training programs and more cooperation with state industries.

To read the entire article from the Asbury Park Press: click here.