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Building better education and training initiatives to meet the needs of business was the focus the recent 2nd annual NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities Summit, which brought together more than 350 community college leaders, workforce partners, business partners, state government and education officials and national experts. 

The New Jersey Council of County Colleges hosted the “Expanding Innovative Workforce and Education Partnerships” summit in Atlantic City, where nationally renowned speakers discussed the trends and innovations in education and training. 

Presentations included the lessons learned regarding equity and access to high-quality credentials, the benefits of credential transparency to students, jobseekers, and employers, work-based learning and apprenticeships, and the overall future of work. 

“Hearing the insightful perspectives and experiences of these national thought leaders and engaging in conversations with them helps us chart the path for Year Three of the Pathways Initiative,” said Catherine Starghill, Esq., vice president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC).  

“As we build on the momentum of our accomplishments with more than 1,800 educational and business partners across New Jersey, the forward-thinking dialogue at this summit helps us think outside of the box and push our boundaries even further as we dive deeper into this transformative infrastructure of collaboration,” Starghill said. 

The seven national speakers were:   

  • Chauncey Lennon, Ph.D, Vice President for Learning Work and Senior Strategy Advisor, Lumina Foundation;  
  • Scott Cheney, CEO, Credential Engine;  
  • Ken Sauer, Senior Associate Commissioner and Chief Academic Officer, Indiana Commission for Higher Education;  
  • Charlotte Cahill, Associate Vice President, Education, Jobs for the Future;  
  • Amanda Winters, Program Director, Post-Secondary Education, National Governors Association;  
  • Keith Witham, Vice President of Education, Philanthropy, Ascendium Education;  
  • Paul Fain, veteran journalist and host of the “The Cusp,” a new Work Shift podcast about AI’s impacts on education and work.   

“Navigating the thousands of education and training choices is a challenge for anyone looking to get the right skills for their career path,” Cheney said. “New Jersey’s community colleges are working to make that easier through more transparency, richer information about quality and outcomes, and clear links between what employers require and what they offer their students. Credential Engine is pleased to support this work so that New Jersey’s education and training systems are more equitable, efficient, and effective.” 

Cahill told the crowd, “We need to think about perceptions about industries, like everything else they have ethnic, racial patterns. A lot of students are maybe not so interested because of what they’ve heard from parents, neighbors, relatives, and so we need to think about navigation in those careers paths that break down the pre-conceived ideas that young adults have about how friendly some industries are to different types of groups.” 

NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities was formed by New Jersey’s community colleges and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) to bring together industry and education partners to form an education ecosystem that is connected statewide and guided by industry leaders to build an innovative workforce in the Garden State.  

This cutting-edge initiative now has over 1,800 industry and education partners statewide, and its programs have served over 6,500 students, adult learners, and education professionals. 

Fain added, “This is a must-watch, ambitious project from the New Jersey community colleges. The Pathways work touches on all of the most promising strategies that I’m hearing about as states seek to tighten connections between education and work.” 

Brian Bridges, Ph.D., New Jersey’s Secretary of Higher Education; Michael McDonough, Ph.D., President, Raritan Valley Community College; and Christopher Emigholz, Chief Government Affairs Officer, NJBIA, gave opening remarks. 

“NJBIA is proud to partner with New Jersey’s Community Colleges on the Pathways Initiative so that businesses have a seat at the table when determining education in our colleges needed for the jobs of tomorrow. It is essential for being the most competitive workforce possible,” said Emigholz. 

NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities milestones achieved to date include:  

  • The creation of four industry collaboratives focused on health services, infrastructure and energy, manufacturing and supply chain management, and technology and innovation;  
  • The creation of sustainable partnerships – “a paradigm shift” – between industry and education so that industry may directly influence education and training pathways to ensure future employees have the skills and training needed by New Jersey businesses; 
  • The engagement of over 1,800 industry and education partners in one pathways-focused, statewide ecosystem; 
  • The creation of 10 Centers of Workforce Innovation focused on occupations across the four industry collaboratives in which cross-education sector partners build new and enhance existing education and training pathways for traditional students, adult learners, and workers; 
  • The development of 67 education and training pathways, workshops, registered apprenticeships, pilots, and professional development sessions to meet learners where they are for the lifelong learning required of our competitive economy; and 
  • Over 6,500 high school students, college students, adult learners, workers, and education professionals participated in NJ Pathways funded workshops, courses, apprenticeships, training programs, and professional development sessions. 

Photo caption: (L-R) Scott Cheney, CEO, Credential Engine; Catherine Starghill, Vice President, NJCCC; Charlotte Cahill, Associate Vice President, Jobs for the Future; Ken Sauer, Indiana Higher Education Commissioner; Paul Fain, journalist and podcaster; Brian Bridges, NJ Secretary of Higher Education; Aaron Fichtner, President, NJCCC;  and Chauncey Lennon, Vice President for Learning Work and Senior Strategy Advisor, Lumina Foundation. – Photo courtesy of Think Media Communications.

About the New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC) 

Governed by the presidents and trustees of the state’s 18 community colleges and enshrined in state law, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges (NJCCC) supports New Jersey’s community colleges and the more than 230,000 students they serve annually across 49 locations by fostering collaboration and developing solutions that expand access to college, promote equity and student success, and create a skilled workforce to drive economic growth.