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Senators Steve Oroho, R-24, and Linda Greenstein, D-14, at the Mount Laurel hearing of the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus.

Senators Steve Oroho, R-24, and Linda Greenstein, D-14, at the Mount Laurel hearing of the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus.

South Jersey manufacturers have the same problem as manufacturers across the country: They cannot find employees with the skills they need to run their business. But this time, they may have found a solution.

At the Legislative Manufacturing Caucus hearing in Mount Laurel, six South Jersey manufacturers shared their biggest challenges. They mentioned taxes of course, the cost of doing business, regulations, and tariffs. But overwhelmingly the discussion centered on the lack of talent available for advanced manufacturers.

Jay Budd of Edmund Optics, Inc. in Barrington put the question back to the legislators on the caucus.

“Is there a way we can get a centralized portal or location, where you give me the people coming from the military, you give me the people from the community colleges, you give me the people from the high school? A kind of hiring pool we can go to and see this information so we can pick from there?

“Right now, we are exhausting resources looking all over the state” for qualified people, Budd said.

New Jersey has a job onramp called Jobs4Jersey, but that relies on individuals to post their job search information. Other groups help veterans entering the civilian workforce, but nothing  includes everyone.

“I really love this idea,” Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-14, said. She co-chairs the caucus with Sen. Steve Oroho, R-24.

In the meantime, New Jersey has good vocational technical schools that are willing to work closely with businesses to make sure students graduate with skills that are relevant to today’s working world.

Jackie Burke of Career Tech NJ, the association representing county vocational technical school districts, said the individual schools need businesses to get more involved with the curriculum and urged employers to join the various advisory boards that have a big influence on what students learn.

“Advanced manufacturing is a major priority in our schools; they are opening advanced manufacturing programs across the state,” Burke said. “We hope to be your pipeline for skilled workers, but one of our challenges is having businesses connect with our schools.

“Our schools are always desperate for businesses to serve on their advisory boards,” Burke said. “We have advisory boards for every single program of study so that those businesses can inform our schools of what training need.”

Greenstein pointed out that vocational technical schools, as well as county community colleges, will be getting a funding boost for new facilities thanks to a recently approved bond issue. The state is still in the process of distributing the funding, she noted.

Unfortunately, employers testifying Friday morning described a lack of skills among new hires that has become all too familiar.

Nihal Raval, of Puratos Corp. in Pennsauken, said it’s not even a matter of training in-house. The company is growing, and like many advanced manufacturers, it’s been using automation to stay competitive. But finding maintenance people to take care of Puratos’ sophisticated manufacturing equipment is getting harder. So more workers are jumping jobs.

“We’ll hire a guy and he’ll work for us three month for $33 or $34 an hour, and then they’ll go down the street to (another company) and make $39 there.”

Maryann Hajduk of H&H Industrial Corporation, also in Pennsauken, wanted the caucus to understand that the skills she’s looking for in her new hires aren’t that sophisticated. In short, she needs someone who knows how to read a tape measure.

“It’s not that I don’t want to train them. I want to train them, but I can’t get them to stay, I can’t get them to pass a drug test,” Hajduk said.

She also pointed out that the aging workforce means the problem is only going to get worse. She said that she has great employees now who have been with her for 30 years, but when they retire, she has no one to replace them with.