By Jim Pytell, New Jersey Business Magazine Managing Editor
State Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said Friday at NJBIA’s Meet the Decision Makers event in Trenton that New Jersey’s workforce is in a better position now than it was a year ago. Last year at this time, the state’s unemployment rate was 6.3%. It now sits at 3.4%.
Additionally, New Jersey regained 107% of the private sector jobs it lost during the pandemic, which is most in the region (NJ, PA and DE), according to Asaro-Angelo.
“Businesses are thriving in New Jersey,” the commissioner said, pointing to overall business growth in the state to support the claim.
He highlighted the fact that from 2018 to 2022, businesses with fewer than 50 employees and businesses with fewer than 100 employees both increased by 18%, even in spite of the pandemic.
In terms of the work that DOL is doing, Asaro-Angelo said the department is doubling down on workforce development initiatives.
“It is not just about getting unemployed folks back to a job, it is about preparing them to enter a career, and upskilling those who are already working. We are working one-on-one with employers to help our businesses grow,” Asaro-Angelo said.
He spoke on the importance of apprenticeships and said the department is leaning heavily into a learn-while-you-earn model.
“We are applying this model to a diverse range of occupations including: computer systems analysts, pharmacy technicians, human resources employees, water treatment plant operators, and many more,” Asaro-Angelo added.
The focus on apprenticeships has also opened the door to federal funding, much of which comes in the form of competitive grant programs such as the Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education (PACE) Program, for example.
Since 2018, the number of apprenticeship programs in the state has increased by 92%.
“This is significant progress and is going to have a decades-long impact,” Asaro-Angelo said.
The commissioner said that the state will also continue to be a leader in fighting worker misclassification to protect employees and law-abiding employers alike, adding that the department will work with businesses in overcoming common barriers to compliance.
“New Jersey has established itself as a national leader in fighting worker misclassification, as we’ve demonstrated through our gold-standard ABC Test. This simple, three-pronged standard, which determines whether a worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor, has been affirmed by multiple court rulings, including by the New Jersey Supreme Court,” Asaro-Angelo said. “There is no reason temporary, or on-demand workers who work flexible hours, or even minutes at a time, can’t be treated like other employees in New Jersey or any other state.”
Teen Worker Bill
Asaro-Angelo said that one of his goals as commissioner is to break down the silos between worker protection and workforce development. One example of a stride toward this goal was the signing of a bill that expanded the hours that teenagers are allowed to work during the summer.
Specifically, the law allows 16- and 17-year-olds to work up to 50 hours a week and up to 10 hours a day during the summer, and clarifies the hours of the day that 14- and 15-year-olds are permitted to work (up to 40 hours a week during the summer).
The law will also simplify the process to get working papers via provisions that will go into effect this June. Instead of having school districts issue working papers every time a teen gets a new job, DOL will create a centralized database where teens can register one time.
“Now we are going to be able to communicate with all the workers, their parents or guardians, and their employers,” Asaro-Angelo said. “This will give us the ability to provide benefits and support to these young workers and provide targeted outreach to them about skills they may be learning on the job. The down-the-line impacts of this are going to be special.”