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Employer tax credits to pay for worker sign-on bonuses and financial incentives for people to get off unemployment would help New Jersey’s hiring crisis in the short-term, but the long-term focus must be on workforce training programs that help people upgrade their skills to qualify for higher-paying jobs.

That was the message from NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas during NJ101.5 radio’s “Help Wanted” Town Hall presentation on New Jersey’s labor shortage. The station’s senior political director, Eric Scott, on Thursday night moderated the hourlong event with Buteas, Rutgers professor and economist James Hughes, and NJ Policy Perspective’s senior policy analyst, Peter Chen.

Scott noted the federal government now provides the unemployed with a $300 weekly supplemental pandemic benefit, on top of their regular jobless benefits, and asked Buteas whether it would be better to provide that bonus cash instead to workers who leave unemployment and go back to work.

“We want to see our business community thrive, our workers come back to work, and one way to do that is to make it more palatable for employees to come back to work,” Buteas said. “There’s also other tax credit ideas that we have proposed to our policymakers as well for our hardest hit industries.”

Buteas noted the federal government has been pumping money into the economy, causing consumers to spend more and increasing the nation’s gross domestic product, but workforce challenges remain and cannot be ignored if New Jersey is going to recover economically from the pandemic.

“That’s why we are trying to focus wholeheartedly on making sure that we can be in a position for New Jersey to recover as quickly and as safely as possible and not be one of the last states to recover as were after the Great Recession,” Buteas said.

Employers have leaned into COVID-19 safety protocols to make workplaces safe for employees to return, even shifting their entire business models to face a changing world economy, she said. But it’s important to remember that right now government policies are what’s propping up the economy.

“We are not on a level playing field at this time, which is why we are concerned that when different benefits run out … that there are jobs to go back to and there are employment opportunities and training available for folks to go back to as well,” Buteas said.

Go here to read Scott’s report about the discussion. Watch NJ101.5’s video recording of the broadcast on Facebook here.