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Focus NJ, an independent, nonprofit research foundation recently launched by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, has been awarded a 2020 ASAE Research Foundation Innovation Grant that will go toward the creation of an online portal that will connect employers and students for experiential learning opportunities.

Nicole Sandelier, executive director of Focus NJ, and Chairperson Michele N. Siekerka, Esq., made a presentation of the goals of the forthcoming platform during ASAE’s 2020 Great Ideas Conference in Salt Lake City on Monday.

“It is an honor to receive this grant from ASAE,” said Sandelier. “We are currently working on an online platform where students and all stakeholders from academia, the private sector and government can connect to easily find the latest information, as well as internship, apprenticeship and research and development opportunities.”

Siekerka said the aim of the portal is to address the challenges raised by employers in NJBIA’s 2020 Business Outlook Survey. Nearly 6-in-10 businesses said they have difficulty locating middle-skilled and highly-skilled talent to fill their job openings, but many were unaware of opportunities to engage with two-year and four-year institutions to help harness that talent.

“We are grateful to receive this national award so soon after launching Focus NJ,” Siekerka said. “We look foward to building a tool that benefits both students, their schools and parents, and employers, as well.

“By creating these connections and raising visibility to the opportunies available, we will be better able to ensure a stronger future workforce pipeline that will bring more productivity to our employers.”

ASAE’s Innovation Grants Program (IGP) provides awards to support innovation exploration and development within associations to help leaders actively and creatively address changes and challenges. Grant recipients receive funding to dive deeper into innovation and implement their project ideas, creating models of innovation for the entire association community.

Focus NJ received a $10,000 grant from ASAE to further invest in the project. The foundation was one of three 2020 recipients of the Innovation Grants, joining the American Academy of PAs and the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

“This year’s awardees reflected creativity and commitment to innovation with projects focused on diversity and inclusion, experiential learning and increasing engagement across generations,” said Mark R. Nelson, Ph.D., MBA, CAE, 2020 chair of the IGP steering committee. “We look forward to having them share their journey and add to the innovative efforts within the association community.”

Focus NJ – the Center for Economic Research and Workforce Solutions – was officially launched in January. It will administer deep analysis of public policies, industry trends and economic indicators that impact New Jersey’s overall affordability, workforce and competitiveness.

In the coming weeks, Focus NJ will release the first report of a statewide Industry Series Study detailing the changing dynamics, opportunities and threats to seven different industries.  In addition, the study will also identify skill sets of the future and will provide recommendations on how to better prepare New Jersey’s future workforce pipeline.