Michele Siekerka, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, received the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Leadership Award from the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools on July 24.
It’s the first time the statewide association representing the state’s 21 county vocational technical school districts presented its annual award to a business leader.
“It is a true pleasure to recognize Michele and NJBIA for their tremendous efforts to improve the alignment between education and employer needs, and especially to advance CTE as an educational and economic priority,” said NJCCVTS Executive Director Judy Savage.
The NJBIA was also instrumental in the passage last November of the $500 million Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act, which will allow county vocational schools to expand their program offerings, Savage said.
Siekerka leads the nation’s largest, most influential employers’ organization, advocating on behalf of New Jersey’s large and small businesses for policies aimed at making New Jersey more affordable and regionally competitive.
“It’s an honor to receive this award from NCCVTS, as we share the same mission of meeting the rising demand for workforce development in New Jersey,” Siekerka said. “At NJBIA, we understand the need to bring business to the table to inform what are the needs, requirements and skills to improve the pathways for tomorrow’s workforce. With our dedicated team, comprehensive research and proactive advocacy, we remain fully committed to filling the gaps between our skilled workers and the skills our employers need.”
Siekerka, a Robbinsville resident, joined NJBIA in 2014 from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, where she served as deputy commissioner, following a stint as assistant commissioner for Water Resources Management.
An attorney by trade, Siekerka’s background includes serving as the president and CEO of the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce, senior legal counsel and vice president of human resources with the Automobile Association of America, and as a partner in a Mercer County law firm.
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At NJBIA, Siekerka has been at the forefront of efforts to build more effective workforce development alliances in New Jersey between academia, business and government.
NJBIA first began to raise awareness about the value and importance of career and technical education in 2012. Until then, employers really did not have a significant say in education and workforce development policy, Savage said.
But as employers increasingly expressed alarm about their hiring challenges, NJBIA’s team of policy experts started looking for strategies to prepare more students for technical careers in New Jersey.
“They recognized career and technical education as the missing link for employers looking to fill technical jobs, and for students and parents seeking affordable and career-focused education opportunities,” Savage said.
NJBIA and NJCCVTS began working in partnership in 2013, when the organizations crafted a major white paper that called for making the expansion of CTE an economic priority for New Jersey.
“When NJBIA took those needs to legislative leaders, they not only listened to the voice of business, but acted swiftly to introduce and pass a 2014 package of legislation that included county vocational school partnership grants as the first phase of expansion,” Savage said. “So began a partnership between NJBIA and NJ’s county vocational-technical schools that put career and technical education on the policy map in Trenton.”
Since then, NJBIA’s leadership and support for CTE has produced a long list of accomplishments, Savage said.
Among the concrete accomplishments are 23 new CTE programs that serve about 1,600 additional students thanks to the partnership grants funded in four successive budget years and 10 new manufacturing focused programs at county vocational schools throughout the state
Savage said NJBIA’s involvement has also increased understanding of and support for CTE statewide as well as resulted in an infusion of new business partners from NJBIA member companies.
“While Michele was not at the helm of NJBIA when these efforts began, she has been steadfast in her commitment to bring them to fruition,” Savage said. “None of this would have been possible without the support, guidance and leadership of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association and its president.”