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There are rewarding, well-paying careers in the growing fields of manufacturing, health services, energy, innovation, technology, and more that do not require students to obtain a traditional four-year college degree.

That was the message delivered by a panel of higher education and workforce experts, including NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas, during NJ101.5 radio’s Town Hall call-in program, College Alternatives, on Thursday night.

Buteas told NJ101.5’s Eric Scott there is a skilled workforce shortage in New Jersey, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation and more than 300,000 unfilled jobs. Many of these openings are in fields with alternative career pathways that do not require four years of college.

“There’s countless trades and vocations that our future workforce can pursue, and these are good-paying jobs,” Buteas said. There are a lot of career and educational offerings in New Jersey – from four-year colleges, which offer many long-term benefits, to associate degree programs and career and technical skill schools, she said.

Buteas noted NJBIA has partnered with New Jersey’s 18 community colleges, as well as four-year institutions, vo-tech schools, government, workforce development, business and labor groups on an exciting initiative called the New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities. The organizations are working together to identify and promote the credentials and skills needed for careers in sectors such as health services, manufacturing, energy, innovation and technology.

“These are really critical areas that are growing in the State of New Jersey, and we need the skilled workforce to fill those jobs,” Buteas said.

Aaron Fichtner, the president of the New Jersey Council of County Colleges and a former commissioner of the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development, said that successful careers often require education beyond a high school diploma, but not necessarily a traditional four-year college degree.

“That could take the form of a short-term credential that gets you a job in manufacturing, it can take the form of an associate degree that transfers to a four-year institution,” Fichtner said. “It’s really a broad set of opportunities and options.”

Scott cited state Department of Labor & Workforce Development data that said the average starting salary is $72,000 for a New Jersey plumber; $50,000 for a trucker with a commercial driver’s license; and up to $80,000 for a radiology technician. None of these occupations require a four-year college degree.

“These are not minimum wage jobs,” Scott said., “These are careers.”

Students and their parents can save a considerable amount of money taking classes at a county college that cost about $5,000 a year, compared to a four-year New Jersey public college where one year of classes costs about $35,000 for an on-campus student. At private colleges and universities, the cost averages $75,000 a year.

Fichtner said county colleges have been seeing a strong interest lately in careers that do not necessarily require a traditional four-year degree.

“We’re seeing a huge interest in manufacturing, in logistics, and in business degrees,” Fichtner said “People are responding to a changing economy.”

The program also included insights from college planning consultant John Tillman, founder of Ecliptic Financial Advisors and Amy Lombardo, of the New Jersey School Counselor Association.

Leaders from trade unions also weighed in, including Bernie Corrigan, president of Local 102 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Greg Lavalee, business manager of Local 825 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Both unions have sprawling training centers in New Jersey that prepare people for well-paying careers as electricians and heavy equipment operators, respectively.

To watch a recording of the program, go here.