Strategic Workforce Development: Preparing Justice-Impacted Individuals for Transportation, Engineering and Construction Careers

Strategic Workforce Development, an innovative initiative of the Every Day Counts Program, suggests the importance of fostering an environment and partnerships favorable to training programs, pre-apprenticeship programs, and support for women and minorities in the construction workforce, among other strategies. The Rutgers Youth Success Program (RYSP), housed in Rutgers’s Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT), has provided several strategic workforce development programming to vulnerable populations in and around Camden, NJ. While the program supports a variety of individuals, a majority of those served are justice-impacted and from historically underserved or vulnerable populations. With the continued success of these services, RYSP has grown and developed, most recently starting a new program focused on enhancing employment access in the transportation, infrastructure, and construction fields, called PACE (Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education), sponsored by the Apprenticeship Office of NJDOL. The program has also taken a new name to reflect its expansion into serving adults and focusing more closely on employment: Rutgers Employment Success Program (RESP).

We interviewed Todd Pisani, the Training Director of Rutgers Employment Success Programs. Todd has been working for the past ten years on strategic workforce development programs for justice-impacted individuals in Camden, NJ. His work started with the creation of the Rutgers Youth Success Program and has developed into several Camden, New Brunswick, and South Jersey based programs focused on bridging employment gaps for justice-challenged individuals.

Q. Can you tell us about the Rutgers Employment Success Program?

A. The Rutgers Employment Success Program (previously the Rutgers Youth Success Program) supports up to 120 justice-impacted youth in and around Camden, NJ, with job readiness, career exposure, work experience, education, and legal services. The program addresses some of the challenges many young people face following involvement in the juvenile justice system, especially with employment and accessing education. The program is funded by the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development (NJDOL) and is a collaboration between Rutgers University and the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT).

Participants of the Rutgers Youth Success Program learn from field professionals about automotive repairs

By the end of 2024, we will be serving 400 individuals and hope to increase this number going forward. While the program began with serving young individuals, we have found that expanding into an older age cohort, 18+ years, has been successful. We work directly with vulnerable populations — for example, black and brown people, individuals from historically underserved communities, returning citizens, or otherwise justice impacted people — to address employment barriers. Our approach includes consideration and support for people with mental, behavioral, or psychiatric health challenges. In addition to our on-the-ground work, we advocate for the change of harmful systems that pose barriers to employment by initiating a change in language and policy that have historically slowed progress and support for the populations we serve.

Q. How did you get involved in the Rutgers Youth Success Program and what has kept you involved for the past 10 years? 

A. After several years as an employee affiliated with the Cooperative Extension program at Rutgers, Camden, we were successful in putting together a team that included Dr. Clifton Lacy, former Commissioner of Health and head of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that attracted federal funding. That 1.2 million dollar longitudinal research project studied recidivism and violence among justice impacted youth over 3 years, and led me to collaborate with Rutgers CAIT. When a staffing change presented an opportunity, we were able to move the continuation of funding from Cooperative Extension to CAIT. The program remained consistent with its goals and mission and our support for individuals remains the same, but we have been able to expand the program and strengthen our ties to the engineering, transportation, and infrastructure realm.

Q. One of the goals of the Rutgers Employment Success Program is to address some of the barriers under-represented, or justice-challenged individuals face when pursuing a career. What do some of these barriers look like and how is this program targeting these? 

A. The barriers are baked into the system as a whole — and there are many organizations and even political movements that are working to change that trajectory. The most prevalent barriers include:

  • The outrageous and arbitrary time individuals must wait after incarceration to even be considered for some positions. We combat that by pushing for improved hiring policies, advocacy efforts in a variety of environments including discussions with trade unions, partnerships with community colleges and their affiliates, and developing relationships with specific employers and helping them see the value in hiring returning citizens.
  • Trauma and PTSD are common effects of incarceration and experience in the justice system. These conditions may make finding or receiving employment challenging and advocating for oneself even more so. We lead our program from a strengths-based trauma-informed approach, ensuring that everyone is treated with respect, honor, and dignity.
  • Justice-impacted individuals are often restricted from decision-making rooms. We utilize our privilege by inviting in justice-impacted leaders to rooms they often are kept from. We have several justice-impacted individuals on our team, so we lead by example. The resulting interactions with Judges, attorneys and law enforcement encourage human to human interactions and help those in power rethink their language and approaches.
  • Low exposure to higher education. We encourage individuals to dream and follow their professional interests. Our program also provides individuals with tours of colleges and supportive conversations, proving that it is a viable option for them.

Q. How has the Rutgers Employment Success Program been received by justice-challenged individuals? 

A. There are hits and misses, like any group of individuals. We hire people who are reflective culturally of the communities we serve — most of the team are black or brown people, including the team leads. We have several Spanish speakers on the team. And 2 have been justice impacted themselves, one a well-known community leader who spent over 30 years in prison for a crime committed as a teenager. He earned  his degree in Criminal Justice from Rutgers while incarcerated as part of the NJ STEP (Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons) program, and has emerged as an amazing advocate for returning citizens, and has helped us link to the returning citizens  community in an authentic, immersive, and heartfelt way.

Our past participants have been extremely helpful with refining our practices by voicing their own experience and suggestions for improvements. Most recently we changed some of our intake paperwork to make it easier to access and friendlier, as requested. Participants have also identified system challenges, like the selective service status letter requirement which automatically creates a barrier for some. We really appreciate this feedback, and we also look to our sponsors for advice and suggestions.

Q. Are there any populations you are having difficulty reaching?

A. The population we serve is mostly minorities and men. We have promoted and recruited our programs across gender identities and have had female program coordinators. However, our most recent research project was a 90/10 split male to female. This is most likely a result of the gender disparity of justice-impacted youth; there are far less women and girls entangled by the justice-impacted world. We have engaged young women in our apprenticeship projects and have a black female instructor who teaches occupational safety and heavy equipment—she is very active and vocal about bringing women into the trades. Our hope is to encourage more women into the field; however, we don’t necessarily want more females to be impacted by justice. Since the NJDOL has infused the importance of targeting other populations into their grant opportunities by listing the variety of individuals traditionally harder to reach or less likely to consider the trades, we expect that employers and trade unions will follow suit and make diversity and inclusion a priority, if they haven’t already.

Q. Why are transportation and infrastructure important fields for the population you serve to connect to?

A. Many of our individuals we serve or have served identify hands-on work as appealing to them. They tend toward less office-based employment and more toward the trade industries, including transportation. Other fields of interest include construction, heavy equipment, offshore wind and other green energy solutions.

Q. Speaking of participant interest in construction and transportation careers, tell us about the new RYSP program, PACE.

A. The Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education program, or PACE, is an exciting new apprenticeship program that has recently been added to the suite of Rutgers Youth Success Program services. The program is modeled after past NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development models and will prepare participants with the necessary experience to apply for apprenticeships. Our program began in July 2023 and currently has funding for 30 participants from around the North Brunswick area. PACE goes beyond the foundational support that RYSP provides to disconnected or justice impacted youth, by increasing direct services to emerging adults 17-24 years old who are not immediately interested in or applying to college but would like to explore immediate career options.

Flyer for PACE Program Targeted to Heavy Equipment Operations

This program follows several successful programs through RESP, and in many cases incorporates the lessons learned from previous participants. Individuals not pursuing a degree following high school are often encouraged into service industry fields and healthcare, as preparation programs are more readily available. However, past participants have really expressed interest in hands-on skill training and work. Therefore, PACE is aiming to address this gap by establishing pathways for underserved populations to work in the transportation, infrastructure, or construction fields. In this case, participants will move through the Operating Engineers introductory curriculum, which includes:

  • 10 hours of on-the-job shadowing, with placement support through Hudson County Community College;
  • 30 hours of training to receive OSHA construction industry certification that will be provided by our long-standing partnership with Myers Crossing LLC.
  • Taking the Operating Engineers introductory course at Hudson County community College
  • Exposure and connections to Local 825, the International Union of Operating Engineers, which has a hands-on training facility and a training initiative with Hudson County Community College, its Earn and Learn Program.  

The goal is to expand the possible futures of each participant, allowing them to:

  • Begin an entry-level job in the transportation, infrastructure, or construction field.
  • Participate in a registered apprenticeship program.
  • Enroll in an educational program, like the Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies at Hudson County Community College

We anticipate making employment, apprenticeship, or full-time training or education quality placements   for at least 20 of our pre-apprentices in operating engineering by December 2024.

Debbie Myers of Myers Crossing, LLC instructing a PACE participant during an OSHA training session

We also have built a relationship with NJ Transit, NJDOT, and other large infrastructure related employers and are hopeful this will assist with job placements for younger people (18-19 years), which can be more challenging.

Q. In addition to the new PACE program, you are listed as the part of the lead research team for the EDC-7 Pilot Evaluation of Strategic Workforce Development for Justice-Challenged Youth research project. Could you tell us more about this work?

A. This is a very new research project, so I don’t have a lot to share yet. Our team will develop a set of best practices for strategic workforce development in the transportation and infrastructure fields using a nationwide survey of current workforce development programs that assist justice-impacted youth. The research is managed by the National Center for Infrastructure Transformation, led by Prairie View A&M University in Texas, and performed by Rutgers University and the Prairie View A&M. My hope is to strengthen our current efforts and support multiple projects through this project.

Q. What types of agencies will benefit from these best practices for Strategic workforce development? 

A. We are voting members of the Camden Youth Services Commission; each county has a version of this. The biggest benefactor for this research project will be the local youth justice system folks who are always seeking alternative methods for creating positive preventive and diversionary pathways as well as providing alternatives to detention or other punitive responses especially for young, justice-impacted individuals. Partner organizations that include the community colleges, Pathstone, Volunteer’s of America, and others will benefit from having access to a database of models for moving impacted young people into the workforce or training sectors. The transportation employer sectors, and other employers can benefit when presented with supportive data from other areas where these projects have found success. For example, if they are doing something amazing and successful in California that we can replicate and demonstrate its efficacy using data, it can potentially erode resistance and allow for larger organizations to overcome the risk factor and partner with organizations like Rutgers providing the support services to lean toward success for all. 

Q.  Do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share?

Todd Pisani takes group selfie with participants and colleagues from the Youth Success Program.

A. We had an 82 percent benchmark attainment rate at the conclusion of the pilot Bridges program, which we are now in the first year of a 3-year continuation cycle. That project grew from serving 40 during the beginning of the pandemic when no in-person contact was allowed, to 100 served in the Camden area alone in 2022, and we are now on track to serving 120 in Camden and New Brunswick.

We have sought to successfully intertwine research and community-serving initiatives through multiple projects – our four NJDOL projects have been specifically project-based with no research specifically attached to them.  The EDC-7 Pilot Evaluation Study of Strategic Workforce Development for Justice-Challenged Youth, as well as others, can help to attract attention, provide reinforcement for our effort, and place the work itself into a scholarly context. We believe we can use the research to refine our projects, but also improve the design of research about the populations we serve.

Language is an important component of our work; for instance, we started using the term “justice impacted” instead of justice involved, primarily to demonstrate that nobody really wants to be “involved’ in justice world, and to plant the seed that there is an impact here that can shift the whole picture for many folks, especially black and brown individuals who have been disproportionately targeted and treated differently at all levels of the justice system, including in policing, sentencing structure and disciplinary policies in schools. Research helps solidify philosophical or observational notions, and provides an undergirding for the work itself, which for our implementation teams is the most important factor—helping to shift the trajectory for a young person, or an older individual for that matter. 


Resources

Rutgers Youth Success Program
https://cait.rutgers.edu/facilities-equipment/rutgers-youth-success-program/

Federal Highway Administration, Every Day Counts Round 7, Strategic Workforce Development
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_7/strategic_workforce_development.cfm

Hudson County Community College, Workforce Development
https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/workforce-development/index.html

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 825
http://www.iuoe825.org/

NJ Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development
https://njworkforce.org

Camden Youth Services Commission
Youth Services Commission | Camden County, NJ

National Center for Infrastructure Transformation Prairie View
National Center for Infrastructure Transformation (NCIT) – Led by Prairie View A&M University (pvamu.edu)

Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies at Hudson County Community College
Technical Studies AAS (hccc.edu)

Operating Engineers Local 825 Earn and Learn Program
825 Earn and Learn

For information on current workforce development programs see:

NJ Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeships
https://www.nj.gov/labor/career-services/apprenticeship/

NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities
https://njpathways.org/centers-of-workforce-innovation/

For information on re-entry support programs in New Jersey visit: Governor’s Reentry Training & Employment Center NJRC (njreentry.org)

For information on re-entry support for women, visit: The_Womens_Project_2023.pdf (njreentry.org)

Strategic Workforce Development: A Follow-Up Conversation with Hudson County Community College and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825

The Earn & Learn program was funded by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant through the NJ Department of Labor.
The IUOE has named the hybrid apprentice program “Earn and Learn.” The first student cohort began class in January 2022.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 and 7 innovation, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies, and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction, and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. The recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector is integral to the initiative. Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping the future workforce, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Lori Margolin, the Associate Vice President for Continuing Education and Workforce Development at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) and Greg LaLevee, Business Manager, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825 for an update on their apprenticeship program entitled Earn & Learn.

Earn & Learn Program Background

The IUOE Earn & Learn program is an advanced manufacturing initiative supported by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant. HCCC and IUOE Local 825 established the program in November 2021 through an articulation agreement. The program gives students the opportunity to be dually enrolled in the union apprenticeship program and HCCC, where they will earn an Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies degree after they complete 60 credits.

During an 18-month period, participants earn 30 credits from on-the-job training and education provided by the union and are scheduled to earn the other 30 credits from HCCC over five semesters. They attend HCCC part-time, taking two classes per semester and earning six credits per semester on average.  All classes are offered in a virtual modality.

Q. The Earn & Learn program has been operating for a little over one year. How is program implementation going so far?

IUOE 825 will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with HCCC and other higher education institutions.
HCCC Continuing Education and Workforce Development works with employers to provide training to meet a diversity of needs.

A. Implementing the program with this first cohort of students has been a learning experience for both the HCCC and IUOE Local 825, as this initiative is the first of its kind. Program implementation is going well overall, with challenges noted below. Twenty-four of the 30 students initially accepted into the program remain enrolled. Factors influencing departures included health issues and struggles for some with the academic or other program requirements. The program is on-track to initiate a second round of applications later this year for the spring 2024 semester.

Q. Are you making modifications to either the academic component or the hands-on training based on your experience in the first year of implementation?

A.  As initially planned, students would earn an Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies degree after they complete 60 credits. However, we have reconfigured the degree to more closely align with the construction industry; students will earn a degree in Technical Studies with a construction concentration.

The course work has been altered to be more directly relevant to the construction industry and to what students are learning at IUOE Local 825. For example, we have replaced some of the math and science courses more directly aligned with the HCCC construction management course work.

While all participants take the same coursework, some modifications are available to accommodate students on different pathways. For example, a student seeking to continue their studies at a four-year university should likely take a Calculus course, whereas those not wishing to continue their education beyond an Associate Degree may opt for other available math courses.

Q. What have been the key challenges you have encountered so far in the program implementation? How have you addressed those challenges?

The IUOE Training Center offers simulations to prepare for operating in-field equipment.

A. One of the main challenges can be scheduling as students must meet the demands of their on-the-job training, as well as their classroom instruction requirements. Construction jobs may be located far from one’s residence and/or require off-peak work hours, which compounds this scheduling challenge.

Many of the participants have not had recent experience with balancing academic demands with on-the-job training. Many of the students are 25 years of age or older and have not been enrolled in school for several years. For such students, re-entering the classroom can be a “culture shock,” and requires them to learn how to prioritize academic studies.

This is often an issue in adult learning so both a HCCC Student Success Coach and the IUOE Local 825 chief academic officer are vital partners in the program. Many HCCC initiatives include a Student Success Coach as a best practice to provide adult students with additional supports with navigating the college in terms of scheduling, instruction, and identifying resources to address other demands so they can attain success. The Student Success Coach often functions as a student advocate and navigator. The value of the Student Success Coach to the Earn & Learn program must be emphasized.

Q. What have been some key takeaways and lessons learned so far with the program?

HCCC and the IUOE are training workers for the construction industry, including highway construction.

A. Creating connections among the student cohort has been an important and contributing factor to students’ ongoing success. Students have been able to develop relationships virtually through class, as well as through the Earn & Learn in-person orientation. We also convened an in-person meeting with students after the first semester to discuss issues and challenges with the Earn & Learn program. The students receive both academic and emotional support and camaraderie from one another and benefit from cohort learning.

Also vital to identifying and addressing program challenges has been the open and clear communication channels established and nurtured between the HCCC Student Success Coach and the IUOE Local 825 chief academic officer.

We have learned that overall program flexibility is key as well. For example, to give students the greatest scheduling flexibility and to accommodate diverse comfort levels, they are given some choice with how their HCCC academic instruction is delivered. Specifically, for some classes student can take asynchronous online classes, or opt for synchronous instruction with a live instructor.

Q. What benefits have been achieved so far from the Earn & Learn program?

A. Many students are surpassing their own expectations for their performance in the program, which is wonderful to experience. As one student shared, “I didn’t think I could do school again.” Most are maintaining high GPAs. I feel that the personal growth experienced by these students will also translate into them becoming better members in the IUOE union and better employees.

Q. Are you aware of any other similar programs generating interest in the construction trade?

Students get “hands-on” time for operating heavy equipment at the IUOE Training Facility.

A. The Earn & Learn program is a bit unique. However, I believe the Carpenter’s Union is working on something with the state Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development and they are referring to their training centers as technical colleges. Some of the other construction trades also have arrangements with higher education institutions, such as with Thomas Edison State University.

Other Construction-Focused Career Initiatives

Q. During our interview last year, the goal of bridging the gap between student age when graduating Vo-Tech (17 years) and entry into an apprenticeship (age 18 required) was discussed. You were trying to arrange for a direct entry from Middlesex County Vo-Tech to a union apprenticeship with IUOE Local 825. Have you gotten any traction on that effort? Are there other construction-focused career initiatives you want to bring to our attention?

A. Opportunities are never lost! We continue to work on advancing this goal with Middlesex County Vo-Tech of bridging student age when graduating Vo-Tech and apprenticeship entry with us. The Vo-Tech’s East Brunswick campus is located 2.5 miles from the IUOE Local 825 training center, so there is a genuine opportunity here for those students.

Ocean County has a heavy equipment program in their Vo-Tech and we [IUOE Local 825] had an initial meeting to learn more about that effort. We also had some of their students come to our training center for a site visit.

There are other exciting education-focused initiatives happening as well. For example, Local 825’s sister organization located in the Midwest has developed a mathematics curriculum for high school students that local districts can use. The curriculum speaks to how the student would resolve math questions as an operating engineer. IUOE Local 825’s academic officer is working to bring that curriculum to New Jersey, perhaps in collaboration with the non-profit Junior Achievement organization, which is focused on developing youth skills to promote economic success.

An innovative Rutgers initiative led by the Rutgers Youth Success Program (RYSP) in partnership with Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) recently received new funding through a PACE grant. The RYSP program will seek to place under-represented and justice-challenged young people in transportation and infrastructure careers. The grant will support development of a pre-apprenticeship program for Operating Engineers. HCCC will be the training partner for this 18-month program.

Middlesex County is home not only to Rutgers and IUOE Local 825, but also to many of the construction equipment dealers such as John Deere, Caterpillar, and Komatsu. However, there remains limited interaction between all these potential partners to discuss opportunities to diversify and strengthen the construction workforce.

Q. HCCC is a co-leader with Rowan College in the Construction Center of Workforce Innovation. Can you give us a brief update on that work? Do you collaborate directly with Rowan on these initiatives and, if yes, in what way?

A. This Construction Center of Workforce is part of the New Jersey Pathways to Career Opportunities (NJ Pathways), a collaborative program between the NJ Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) and the New Jersey Council of County Colleges. Year one work has been completed. There are ten centers for workforce innovation, including one focused on construction. HCCC is the administrative lead along with Rowan College of South Jersey for the construction innovation.

The Construction Center of Workforce is one of ten workforce centers partnering with the state’s community colleges.

HCCC’s efforts related to the Construction Center of Workforce Innovation, as well as through several other initiatives including the Earn & Learn Program, helped focus our successful work to expand the offerings in our construction management program. We have had an Associate Degree in construction management for a while, and now we also offer a one-year academic certificate requiring 34 credits and 2 proficiency certificates in either construction administration or construction technology requiring 13 or 14 credits. We also offer seven-to-nine individual courses that offer certification in specific areas of construction management. Students can opt to take one or two courses or all the offerings. If students opt to take these offerings as a noncredit course, they can transfer or articulate for credit in the HCCC Construction Management academic certificate or degree program.

HCCC also offers the opportunity to earn a National Institute of Certified Engineers and Technicians (NICET) certificate for the field of Asphalt Testing and other similar offerings, all of which have been very popular. In all, by offering these different degree and non-degree options, students are afforded flexibility to acquire skills that best meets their career advancement goals. This work also helps us advance equity goals as well, as students can learn at their own pace and effectively build their own career pathway beginning where they wish to start.

Q. Do you see any ways that NJDOT’s Civil Rights, Human Resources, or other units could engage with you to advance programs in NJ?

A. The State and NJDOT are seeking greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the construction field and on job sites. To achieve this goal, we need to operationalize strategies that will encourage greater diversity among persons who are considering construction as a viable career path and who may apply for construction jobs. Incremental progress in this regard is possible if we work together. We must look beyond meeting a requirement for a specific number of diverse workers on a job site – instead we should focus attention on developing a plan to generate overall interest in the field and set mid-point goals toward achieving that plan.

On another note, generating interest for a career in heavy equipment operations among youth, especially among youth living in urban areas, is challenging as these individuals often have little exposure to our trade compared to those who reside in more rural areas and who may have experience or familiarity with farm and other heavy equipment. Working with the Junior Achievement organization may provide another pathway for us to identify a new generation of prospective heavy equipment operators and other construction workers.

We would welcome opportunities to sit at the table with NJDOT to advance careers in construction and are open to developing and refining training and education programs to meet the diverse needs of the workforce.


Resources

Federal Highway Administration, Every Day Counts Round 7, Strategic Workforce Development
https://www.njdottechtransfer.net/swd/

Hudson County Community College, Workforce Development
https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/workforce-development/index.html

Hudson County Community College Center for Construction Management
https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/academic-pathways/stem/center-for-construction-management.html

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 825
http://www.iuoe825.org/

NJ Community College Consortium for Workforce and Economic Development
https://njworkforce.org

NJ Department of Labor, NJ PLACE 2.0 Grants
https://www.nj.gov/labor/lwdhome/press/2020/20200131_njplace.shtml

NJ Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeships
https://www.nj.gov/labor/career-services/apprenticeship/

NJ Pathways to Career Opportunities
https://njpathways.org/centers-of-workforce-innovation/

Rutgers Youth Success Program (RYSP)
https://cait.rutgers.edu/facilities-equipment/rutgers-youth-success-program/

From left to right: a woman in a hardhat working with a crowbar, then two men helping place a bridge component, finally three men on a paving device

Strategic Workforce Development Online Recordings & Presentations

Strategic Workforce Development is one of FHWA's seven initiatives promoted through the sixth round of the Every Day Counts (EDC) program. Key emphasis is on developing new, innovative strategies to support qualified workers for highway construction projects. By strengthening this workforce by applying lessons learned with new training tools and customizable marketing materials, state transportation agencies can help to foster the next generation of transportation workers.

FHWA's Center for Workforce Development has hosted several webinars about the Highway Construction Workforce Partnership (HCWP), highlighting success stories and best practices.

Recordings

Recent webinars were held in November 2022, including representatives from Michigan, Connecticut, New England Laborers Training Academy, Texas, National Skills Coalition, Oregon, and the Pennsylvania representatives from the Pittsburgh region, including the Partner4Work and Builders Guild organizations.  A host of supportive services were highlighted that both educate and maintain their trainee's opportunities and availability to participate in the respective workforce development programs.

Other recordings and select presentations are available here and future webinar announcements will be located on the HCWP website.  Some examples of recent webinars and presentations are listed below.

Presentations

FHWA contacts for Strategic Workforce Development are Karen Bobo (Karen.Bobo@dot.gov) and Joe Conway (Joe.Conway@dot.gov).

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: NJDOT’s Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program

Strategic Workforce Development, an innovative initiative of the Every Day Counts Program, suggests the importance of fostering an environment and partnerships favorable to training programs, pre-apprenticeship programs, and support for women and minorities in the construction workforce, among other strategies. NJDOT’s Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program promotes workforce development by supporting transportation-related community projects that engage youth and young adults in underserved communities. NJDOT partners with local government agencies, not-for-profits, community-based organizations and other entities with established youth programs to provide summer employment, as well as training and other supportive services, to the program participants working to improve gateway areas at state highways.

We interviewed Chrystal Section, Supervisor of the Non-Discrimination Programs Unit in the NJDOT’s Division of Civil Rights and Affirmative Action. The unit includes Title VI, Environmental Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act, Limited English Proficiency, and two special programs: the Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement program and the National Summer Transportation Institute (NSTI).

Q. The Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program has been operating since 1998. What prompted the start of the program?

Members of the Division of Civil Rights attended an AASHTO subcommittee conference on the program. Our division became very interested seeing that it would be beneficial to our youth and young adults in underserved communities. At the time, Civil Rights worked with NJDOT’s Adopt a Highway program to develop the Urban Gateway Enhancement Program.

Q. Is the NJDOT program affiliated with the NJ Department of Labor’s Youth Corps Program in New Jersey?

No. We do not work directly with the NJ Department of Labor Urban Youth Corps program. NJDOT implements the Urban Gateway Enhancement Program with the support of federal funding.

Q. What is your role with the program?

I am the project manager, and I work with the supervisors at the various agencies that are participating. I am responsible for outreach, the website presence including grant cycle announcement and application availability statewide, review of applications, award announcement letters, the kick-off meeting with all the funded organizations, ensuring recipients provide close-out documents for reimbursement, and providing the final project report to FHWA.

Q. How much funding is available to each applicant?

Up to $32,000 is available to each applicant organization.  At least 50 percent of the budget must be dedicated to the youth participants in earnings, training and supportive services. Teams are formed with approximately 6 to 10 youths. The funding also pays for the local supervisor, and equipment and supplies as needed.

Some of the applications request less than the grant cap, especially if the organization has participated previously and has purchased costly equipment already.

Q. What might be a typical hourly wage or stipend?

Participants are paid minimum wage, $15/hour, although some of the participating organizations have stipends, so they would pay them based on the stipend. The youths and young adults are not paid less than minimum wage. The participants work four to six hours per day for up to six to eight weeks during the summer.

Program participants may learn skills including the basics of landscaping, horticulture, and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements.
Program participants may learn skills including the basics of landscaping, horticulture, and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements.

Q. How do you get the word out about the program?

Our outreach includes sending letters to previous participants and mayors in underserved communities, and we send out a blast on all NJDOT social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and post the notice on the NJDOT website on the Civil Rights and Clean Up NJ webpages.

Q. How are participating organizations chosen?

We accept applications from any entity that fits the criteria set forth in the application. When I first started with the program, I worked primarily with Urban Enterprise Zones but the program has spread through word of mouth. We continue to focus on underserved communities. The applicants must have established youth programs. The goal of NJDOT’s program is to benefit youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 who are economically or socially disadvantaged and who have experienced barriers to employment (e.g., the lack of a high school diploma, homelessness, teen parenting, being physically or mentally challenged, or an ex-offender).  These program participants receive training while receiving a paycheck.  Depending on the project, they will have an opportunity to learn the basics of urban forestry, landscaping, fabrication and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements, horticulture, construction inspection and materials testing.

Applicants have included cities, youth corps, churches, school districts, and other not-for-profit community-based organizations. Each community organization provides the program’s structure and supervision and also provides life skills, and safety and technical skills training. For examples of grantees and projects, please see Table 1.

As previously noted, some former funding recipients apply in subsequent years, often to continue maintenance on the original project site.

Q. Can you describe the process once you have received the applications?

We receive 14 applications on average each year, and we can usually fund up to 12. A team of 11 NJDOT subject matter experts (SMEs) serve on the application scoring team. These individuals are from several areas including Civil Rights, Local Aid & Economic Development, Community Outreach, Landscape, Project Management, Statewide Planning, Capital Planning and Management, and Operations. Representatives from these departments volunteer their time to review and individually score the applications and then we discuss the scoring and make the awardee selections.

In their applications, the organizations can list up to three site locations and specify the type of projects they will be working on at each location. The projects must be located at gateways to state roadways and be sited on land owned by the State, as NJDOT does not have jurisdiction over county and municipal roadways. Clean-up, maintenance, on-going maintenance from previous projects, anti-graffiti initiatives, planting flowers and trees, and other landscaping are typical projects.

Scoring of the applications takes into consideration whether the project is feasible and provides meaningful and productive work for the participants. Skills training, including work skills, life skills, and safety skills training should be included. Ensuring a safe environment, including providing COVID 19 personal protective equipment and protocols during the pandemic, is also a consideration. Scorers also look for local support for the projects.

Q. Once projects are awarded, what’s next? Does the program leverage the expertise or capabilities of NJDOT employees? How do NJDOT employees get involved in teaching or mentoring in the program?

When we have our kick-off meeting there are representatives from NJDOT Operations and Landscape present to answer any questions. As the project moves forward, we provide technical support as needed, either by meeting with the teams at the project site or answering questions by phone.

Members of the committee visit the project sites during the summer to provide feedback on the great work participants are doing, and to answer questions they may have

Q. What are the benefits of the program?

There are numerous benefits to both NJDOT and the program participants. NJDOT benefits from the opportunity to partner with non-profit agencies and community-based organizations and local governments. The program also provides a prospective employee pool for the Department. The participants benefit from learning about transportation and jobs that are available in the field, and in some cases from the mentorship by NJDOT employees. The participants also gain a sense of ownership of the sites, of pride in their accomplishments and their community. They learn new skills, including life skills, while earning a pay check. This work experience, and employment services offered through the organization, can help them when applying for jobs in the future. The community benefits from an improvement project that beautifies gateway areas so they are inviting to residents and visitors, and from having citizens who are engaged and better equipped to find a job.

Program participants may learn skills including the basics of landscaping, horticulture, and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements.
Program participants may learn skills including the basics of landscaping, horticulture, and installation of streetscape and pedestrian enhancements.

Q. What are challenges of the program?

There are three main challenges: continued maintenance of the project sites, obtaining increased funding for the program, and closing out projects in a timely manner at the end of the year.

Ensuring that maintenance is continued for these projects depends on the participating community organizations, as maintenance is not a grant requirement although highly desired. Many recipients have strong relationships with the municipal Department of Public Works (DPW), which may accept responsibility for continued maintenance of the project sites. Others apply for additional funding to maintain the sites.

We would also welcome increased funding that would enable us to support more projects and open the program up to more organizations in the state.

Regarding program close-out requirements, this program is a reimbursement program. At the end of the project, the organizations have to submit payment vouchers and receipts. Delays in the process are common due to the other priorities of the organizations, but NJDOT’s ability to secure new funding from FHWA depends on the successful close-out of the year’s projects. Sometimes, we have to skip a year of the program due to late reporting. For example, we awarded grants in 2021 but skipped the 2022 cycle.

Q. Are there any program changes being discussed?

I have been managing the program independently for the past two years, but I now have two new staff members who are excited about the program. Now that they have joined me, I will have capacity to reach out and see what other states are doing with similar programs to gather lessons learned.

Q. Is there a workforce development component to the program? Are program participants encouraged to apply to NJDOT for employment in Operations or other divisions, bureaus or units?

Our goal is to not limit our investment in these individuals to only summer employment, but to also open the door to employment at NJDOT. In January 2022, we invited our partner organizations to a meeting to make them aware of the Highway Operations Technician (HOT) positions available in Operations. We worked with Human Resources and the Manager of Operations to discuss the way the HOT program works, and the application process at NJDOT. Although there were no promises made for hiring, the organizations could make their youth and young adult program participants aware of these existing job opportunities. NJDOT considers this outreach a continuing investment in the on-the-job training. We hope to hold other meetings in the future when these or similar positions are available – positions that require the skills these individuals have developed through the program. We are looking at this initiative as a component of our workforce development program.

Q. Do you have an example of what you would consider a successful project?

I will give you the example of a Trenton-based program operated by Isles, a non-profit organization, which has been a funding recipient for several years. Their work has focused on a variety of beautification and land management tasks, including installation of a TRENTON sign at Barlow Circle, and improvements at plaza gateways, at the Motor Vehicle Commission building, and at ARTWORKS.

Projects led by Isles, Inc. in Trenton serve as some of the examples of this successful program.
Projects led by Isles, Inc. in Trenton serve as some of the examples of this successful program.

When our team of committee members went out to meet with the program participants who worked on this project, these young people were a little resistant to engage with us at first. But when we toured the project sites together and they had the opportunity to explain their contributions and what they learned, you could see a positive change. They were proud of their accomplishments and happy to share that with us. They were not only earning money but learning skills, including how to prepare a resume and other life skills. It is truly meaningful when we as NJDOT employees have the chance to go out and meet with these young people and have an exchange where they can ask questions about the work we are doing, and we can build relationships.

You can always give funding, but it becomes so meaningful when you have the chance to spend half the day with these young men and women and find out about their work, interests and goals. Overall, it is a wonderful experience to oversee this program for NJDOT, to help make communities beautiful, and see lives positively changing from our efforts.

Grantee OrganizationMunicipalityCountyProject Locations
The Work GroupCity of CamdenCamden• Grassy triangle at Admiral Wilson Boulevard and Bank Street
• Exit 3 off 676 North at Morgan Street
City of East Orange Mayor’s Office of Employment and Training (MOET)  City of East OrangeEssex• Freeway Drive-East
• Freeway Drive-West
• North Oraton Parkway (Main Street overpass)
• Ampere Plaza- 4th Avenue
Groundwork ElizabethCity of ElizabethUnion• Kellogg Park
• Mattano Park
• McPherson Park
City of Long BranchCity of Long BranchMonmouth• Jackson Woods Park, Route 36
New Brunswick Board of Education/New Jersey Youth Corps of Middlesex CountyCity of New BrunswickMiddlesex• War Memorial Park, New Brunswick- Route 27- Lincoln Highway (Northbound) and Route 91 a spur of Route 1- Jersey Avenue (Southbound)
• Buccleuch Park, New Brunswick- County Road 527- Easton Avenue (Northbound) and New Jersey State Road Route 18 (Northbound)
• Recreation Park, New Brunswick- Route 171 Jersey Avenue (Northbound)
City of PassaicCity of PassaicPassaic• Madison Street, NJ Route 21 Exit
New Jersey Youth Corps of PatersonCity of PatersonPassaic• Route 80
• Route 20
• Various entrances or gateways to the City of Paterson, NJ
City of Perth AmboyCity of Perth AmboyMiddlesex• Route 35 (Convery Boulevard) and Route 184 (Pfeiffer Boulevard)
• South-West Corner of Smith Street Convery Boulevard (Route 35) and Riverview Drive
• Outer High Street and Route 440 Ramp
• NJ-184 (Lincoln Drive)
New Jersey Youth Corps of PhillipsburgTown of PhillipsburgWarren• NJ 122 (Alt 22) South Main Street 900 Block
• South Main Street (Union Square to Walters Park)
• US Rte. 22 and Roseberry Street (NW Corner)
New Jersey Youth Corps of Atlantic CountyCity of PleasantvilleAtlantic• Delilah Road and Franklin Avenue
Isles, Inc.City of TrentonMercer• Route 1/Perry Street. Interchange & adjacent Roberto Clemente Park- on/off ramp, strip between on-ramp and park
• Route 1/Market Street at Stockton/Mill Hill Park- on/off ramps, MVC building, planned Artwalk and “Trenton” landscaped sign
• Market Street Plaza- gateways that connect Route 1 with Mill Hill and Market Street/Broad Street intersection and corridor
Table 1: NJDOT Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program Grantees for 2021

Resources

NJDOT Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program
https://www.state.nj.us/transportation/community/cleanupnj/youth.shtm

What NEVI Means for EV Adoption in New Jersey

The State of New Jersey has committed to the widespread deployment of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging technologies in the pursuit of cleaner, less carbon intensive roadway travel.  With the establishment of the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program (NEVI) in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BiL), also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), additional federal funding will be available to support New Jersey’s EV transition ambitions.

To receive NEVI Formula Program funds, states are required to develop an FHWA-approved EV Infrastructure Deployment Plan that describes how the state intends to use the funds in accordance with the NEVI Formula Program Guidance.  The State of New Jersey convened a multi-agency task force that included the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), NJ Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU), the NJ Economic Development Authority (NJEDA), among others (1), to meet the August 1, 2022 deadline for plan submission to the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation with FHWA approval expected by September 30, 2022.

Funding for EV Chargers

Having the highest number of registered electric cars on the road per public charging station of any state in the country, at a ratio of 46.16 (2), New Jersey stands to benefit greatly from NEVI’s formula funding for new EV charging stations.  In total, NJDOT will receive $104.4 million from the program over five years (3). This sum represents 2.51 percent of the $4.2 billion that USDOT expects to provide to all states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia through NEVI’s formula (3). For comparison, in 2020 New Jersey’s share of the total American population was roughly 2.8 percent (4), but critically, its share of land area is less than a fraction of a percent (5). Thus, in terms of EV charging infrastructure, the apportioned NEVI funding for New Jersey can ensure broader geographic coverage for its residents than may be possible for other less densely populated states.

Adoption of EV and Hybrid Electric Vehicles is growing exponentially in New Jersey as the technology and infrastructure continues to develop. Courtesy of NJ Department of Environmental Protection.
Adoption of EV and Hybrid Electric Vehicles is growing exponentially in New Jersey as the technology and infrastructure continues to develop. Courtesy of NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

NEVI’s provisions mandate that interstates and highways designated as alternative fuel corridors (AFCs) must have charging stations at intervals of 50 miles or less (and within 1 mile from the highway itself (6)).  In the most recent round of nominations, all of NJ’s interstate roadways were accepted and designated as AFCs by the FHWA, including: I-76, I-676, I-78, I-278, I-80, I-280, I-287, I-95, I-195, I-295, the Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, and the Atlantic City Expressway.  At a minimum, the charging stations must have the capability to simultaneously charge four vehicles at 150kW each.  The development of intercity EV infrastructure should expand the travel range and charging options for through-travelers and New Jerseyans who operate the State’s rapidly growing fleet of registered plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) which numbered 64,307 in 2021 (7).

Far more charging stations will be required in New Jersey should the State achieve its goal of 100 percent PEV sales by 2035.  By then, the EV vehicle fleet would reach 4.2 million registered EVs, or 73 percent of the estimated total of six million registered vehicles.  The NJ EV Plan estimates that between 1,600 and 5,600 additional publicly available fast charging sites will be required throughout the state to meet these registration levels (1).   

Beyond the $5 billion from NEVI, the program will establish the DOT-DOE Joint Office of Energy and Transportation to coordinate the shift in energy mixes for the nation’s transportation technology.  Courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration.
Beyond the $5 billion from NEVI, the program will establish the DOT-DOE Joint Office of Energy and Transportation to coordinate the shift in energy mixes for the nation’s transportation technology. Courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration.

Supplementing the NEVI Funding Formula program, the BiL sets aside discretionary funding through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Competitive Program to fill in gaps in publicly accessible EV charging and hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fueling infrastructure along both designated alternative fuel corridors (50%) and in community locations (50%), such as parking facilities, public schools, public parks, or along public roads.  Under this program, USDOT will prioritize projects that expand access to charging and alternative fueling infrastructure within rural areas, low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and communities with limited parking space or a high ratio of multi-unit dwellings to single-family homes. Eligible entities include states, metropolitan planning organizations, local governments, political subdivisions, and tribal governments.  NJ will be eligible to compete for these funds.

The NJ EV Plan establishes three phases for EV infrastructure development:

  • Phase 1 focuses on developing electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) along the State's AFCs toward achieving "fully built out" status pursuant to the national NEVI program guidance.  Nominated corridors must be equipped with at least four, 150 kW chargers at least every 50 miles and located less than or equal to one mile from the corridor exit.
  • Phase 2 focuses on addressing DC fast chargers on New Jersey’s main corridors every 25 miles, as established by State law and recognizing NJ as the most densely populated state.  The State will incentivize the siting of charging stations at corridor interchanges to achieve the goal of EVSE chargers at a spacing of 25 and 50 miles. The 25-mile spacing provides opportunities to install one EVSE location at the intersection of two corridors and potentially serve both corridors which in some instances may save on installation costs.
  • Phase 3 implements EVSE flexibly in accordance with community needs which could include community-centric charging as well as fast charging hubs near multi-unit dwellings (MUD) and in disadvantaged and overburdened communities to enable electric ride sharing and ride hailing.

The NJ EV Plan emphasizes that each phase will involve planning, community outreach, stakeholder engagement and alignment with Justice40 initiatives.  While initial focus will be on Phase 1, the Plan allows for all phases to progress over the next five years (1).

NJ EV Deployment Plan is divided into three overlapping phases over the five-year plan:  Deployment of chargers between 50 and 25-mile spaces, addressing gaps in the network, and flexible implementation based on community needs. Courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
NJ EV Deployment Plan is divided into three overlapping phases over the five-year plan: Deployment of chargers between 50 and 25-mile spaces, addressing gaps in the network, and flexible implementation based on community needs. Courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The NJ EV Deployment Plan notes the establishment of its “Partnership to Plug In,” a multi-agency partnership formed to coordinate the broader statewide rollout of EVs.  Partnership to Plug In is co-led by NJBPU, NJDEP and NJEDA and “bolstered by support from Treasury, NJ TRANSIT and NJDOT” (1). NEVI formula funding will increase the support NJDOT can provide to the Partnership. The deployment plan frames NEVI as a stepping-stone towards NJ’s policy goals “of achieving 100% clean energy by 2050 and reducing State greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 2006 levels by 2050” (1).

The expansion of NJ’s EV infrastructure network is a complementary next step to the state’s tax incentives and rebate programs and model municipal ordinance initiative to encourage greater EV adoption. Given a $173,000 cost estimate per station, New Jersey’s share of NEVI funding alone is expected to provide enough for 600 charging stations (9). For comparison, the NJDEP estimates roughly 736 Public Charging Locations in NJ (10), illustrating the scale of the potential impact from formula funding.

Looking to place charging stations at a maximum 25 miles apart in applicable routes, twice the frequency required by NEVI, recent NJ state law signals its goal to remain a leading state for owning or operating an electric car (11). As established in the BiL, the State of New Jersey will share 20 percent of NEVI costs (8). The State government has already committed to requiring that 100 percent of state-owned, non-emergency light-duty vehicles be EVs by 2035 (12) and requiring at least 400 DC Fast Charger public stations by the end of 2025 (12).

The composition of public charging locations in New Jersey would benefit if NEVI provides more DC Fast Charging stations, as the majority of NJ locations only provide lesser voltage Level 1 and 2 chargers. Courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
The composition of public charging locations in New Jersey would benefit if NEVI provides more DC Fast Charging stations, as the majority of NJ locations only provide lesser voltage Level 1 and 2 chargers. Courtesy of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Gasoline exhaust from personal and commercial vehicles can lead to areas closer to highways experiencing disproportionate exposure to harmful air pollutants. Courtesy of Ruben de Rijcke, Wikimedia Commons
Gasoline exhaust from personal and commercial vehicles can lead to areas closer to highways experiencing disproportionate exposure to harmful air pollutants. Courtesy of Ruben de Rijcke, Wikimedia Commons

Equity in Environment, Workforce, Mobility and Community Economic Development Considerations

Creating the charging infrastructure to ease the transition from fossil fuels to electric vehicles is a rational response to the global climate crisis. It is also an opportunity to advance equity and environmental justice through transportation investments. Subject to the Biden administration's Justice40 commitment to spend 40 percent of overall benefits of federal investments in climate and clean energy in disadvantaged communities (13), NEVI mandates placement of EV charging stations in the State’s affected disadvantaged communities to reduce the negative impacts of gasoline-based air pollutants.

The NJ EV Deployment Plan highlights the ways in which it is aligned with advancing the Justice40 commitment.  The Plan outlines the State’s existing laws, regulations, guidance, mapping tools and outreach processes that it has employed, and expects to continue to employ, to deliver equitable transportation benefits and combat the health stressors borne by individuals living near highways and facilities from exposure to tail-pipe exhaust from conventional fuels.  The Plan highlights equity, workforce development, mobility needs, and community benefit commitments and considerations.  Emphasis is placed on continuing outreach and dialogue processes, through successive deployment phases, working with community leaders and labor organizations, chambers of commerce, community colleges, technical schools, universities, training organizations, and industry to ensure that the deployment, installation, operation, and use of EV charging infrastructure achieves equitable and fair distribution of benefits and services.

Deploying Transformative Public Investment to Meet a Global, National and State Challenge

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 serves as a reminder of the transformative impact of large-scale federal public infrastructure investment. The bill created a 41,000-mile “National System of Interstate and Defense" which accelerated the nation’s reliance on the personal automobile and commercial trucks for goods movement distribution and profoundly shaped our patterns of living today. Today our challenge is no longer building out the interstate system, but rather retrofitting our roadway systems and land use design to ensure a sufficient supply of EV charging stations. For this era, the aspirational vision for the NEVI program is to build a clean transportation network capable of ensuring reliable regional travel and supportive of carbon emission reduction goals to mitigate climate change impacts.

With its reported national budget of $5 billion (8), the NEVI program makes a critical national investment toward a future where the nation’s EV drivers will increasingly have the confidence to drive down any interstate, knowing charging stations will be waiting for them; non-EV drivers will likewise have fewer “range anxiety” concerns should this be a limiting factor in making the transition to operating a plug-in electric vehicle.

The NEVI program's support will help keep the State’s economy and transportation competitive by complementing its advancements and goals in the EV market. Rewarding New Jersey’s innovation and commitments in encouraging the adoption of new EVs on its road, NEVI’s role in building out charging stations to service EVs will ultimately serve the State well. Increasing the reliability of New Jersey EV network will result in reductions in diesel and carbon emissions from automobiles, thereby protecting the environment, health, and pocketbooks of New Jerseyans.


RESOURCES

(1) New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (2022, August 1). New Jersey National Electrical Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Deployment Plan. https://www.nj.gov/dep/drivegreen/pdf/nevi.pdf

(2) Vermont Biz. (2022, May 12). Vermont is the ninth most accessible state in America to charge an electric car. https://vermontbiz.com/news/2022/may/12/vermont-ninth-most-accessible-state-america-charge-electric-car.

(3) U.S. Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. (2022, February 10). 5-year National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Funding by State. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bipartisan-infrastructure-law/evs_5year_nevi_funding_by_state.cfm.

(4) Iowa State University. (2022). Decennial Census Population Counts for States. https://www.icip.iastate.edu/tables/population/census-states

(5) United States Census Bureau. (2021, December 16). State Area Measurements and Internal Point Coordinates. https://www.census.gov/geographies/reference-files/2010/geo/state-area.html.

(6) Foley and Lardner LLP. (2022, February 24). U.S. DOT Releases NEVI Formula Program Guidance, Giving Public and Private Stakeholders a Roadmap for EV Infrastructure Funding. https://www.foley.com/en/insights/publications/2022/02/us-dot-releases-nevi-formula-program-guidance

(7) New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. (2022). Drive Green Electric Vehicles Basics. https://nj.gov/dep/drivegreen/dg-electric-vehicles-basics.html

(8) U.S. Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. (2022, February 10). National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bipartisan-infrastructure-law/nevi_formula_program.cfm.

(9) NJ.com. (2022, February 11). Feds sending $15M to N.J. to build electric car charging stations. https://www.nj.com/politics/2022/02/feds-sending-15m-to-nj-to-build-electric-car-charging-stations.html.

(10) New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. (2022). NJ Public Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Locator. https://njdep.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=e41aa50dd8cd45faba8641b6be6097b1.

(11) Quartz. (2022, May 14). If you want to buy an EV, New Jersey is the place to be. https://qz.com/2165644/the-cheapest-states-in-the-us-to-buy-an-ev/.

(12) Alternative Fuels Data Center, U.S. Department of Energy. (2022). New Jersey Laws and Incentives. https://afdc.energy.gov/laws/all?state=NJ.

(13) U.S. Department of Transportation. (2022, July 8). Justice40 Initiative. https://www.transportation.gov/equity-Justice40.

Strategic Workforce Development

What is Strategic Workforce Development (EDC-6)?

The demand for highway construction, maintenance, and operations workers is growing while industry is experiencing a revolution of emerging technologies that will require new skills. To attract and retain workers in the contractors' workforce, new resources are available to help compete with other industries and demonstrate the value of a career in transportation.

An Industry and Public Workforce Collaboration

Government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies, and communities nationwide need new, collaborative approaches to meeting this challenge. The nation depends on the highway system, and the highway system depends on qualified workers.

Additionally, increasing the contractors' construction workforce can help communities thrive while solving one of today's most persistent national transportation problems. It also offers an opportunity to recruit minorities and women to jobs that can change their lives, and the lives of their families, for the better.

Benefits
Effective Solutions. Advancing the lessons learned through the highway construction workforce pilot offers the transformational ideas and support needed to fill the gaps in the workforce.

Proven Training. Training programs, practices, and tools from across the country are available to help plan workforce development activities.

Flexibility. Free materials are available to support workforce marketing efforts. Posters, flyers, mailer cards, and social media graphics can be customized with local contact information.

Learn more about this EDC-6 Innovation.

NJ Advances Strategic Workforce Development

Stage of Innovation:
ASSESSMENT
(December 2022)

New Jersey is utilizing diverse strategies to develop the state's transportation workforce:

Apprenticeship Program.  Has an operations apprenticeship program that is currently in the implementation stage. NJDOT has a one-year training program that includes testing as trainees move through the system.

Professional Programs. NJDOT has expanded outreach to draw attention to its professional series positions by partnering with high schools, vocational-technical schools, colleges and universities, community organizations, and the Department of Labor; working with under-represented communities of interest; expanding its social media presence; and building its pipeline and knowledge base that allows growth into the journeyman title.

What's Next? 

In September 2021, NJDOT participated in an FHWA pilot, Let’s Go! Workshop. In this 2-day workshop, NJDOT participants developed a Mission Statement – “To create career opportunities for a diverse workforce in terms of disciplines, demographics, and career levels in order to meet the demands of the transportation skills of tomorrow".  The workshop participants defined a set of priority actions, including:  Industry Association Outreach; Goal, Measures, Timeline, Buy-In; Regular Meetings and Follow-up Actions; and College/University Outreach.

Since then, NJDOT has continued to seek partnerships with national and local organizations to support hiring efforts and to acquire best practice information. The NJDOT Civil Rights programs has sought to perform outreach in underserved communities and pursue a NJDOT leadership training effort. NJDOT is also exploring potential development of a training program for construction inspection/maintenance.

During this period, interviews were conducted with HR staff about early stages of institutionalizing an apprenticeship program. Engagement activities were held to facilitate connections with Industry Association and Higher Education Institutions (e.g., Union, Workforce Development Boards and County College).

The Strategic Workforce Development Working Group convened to formulate a Department-Wide Mentorship Program; identify Emerging Skillset needs with Partners; and continue Industry Association and College/University Outreach activities.  Research into best practices for identifying emerging skillsets and incorporating these considerations into mentoring programs could assist the advancement of this initiative.

Strategic Workforce Development: NEW & NOTEWORTHY

Strategic Workforce Development: Preparing Justice-Impacted Individuals for Transportation, Engineering and Construction Careers

Strategic Workforce Development: Preparing Justice-Impacted Individuals for Transportation, Engineering and Construction Careers

We interviewed Todd Pisani, the Training Director of Rutgers Employment Success Programs. Todd has been working for the past ten years on strategic workforce development ...
Strategic Workforce Development: A Follow-Up Conversation with Hudson County Community College and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825

Strategic Workforce Development: A Follow-Up Conversation with Hudson County Community College and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825

We spoke with Lori Margolin, the Associate Vice President for Continuing Education and Workforce Development at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) and Greg LaLevee, Business ...
Strategic Workforce Development Online Recordings & Presentations

Strategic Workforce Development Online Recordings & Presentations

Strategic Workforce Development is one of FHWA’s seven initiatives promoted through the sixth round of the Every Day Counts (EDC) program. Key emphasis is on ...
Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: <strong>NJDOT’s Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program</strong>

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: NJDOT’s Youth Corps Urban Gateway Enhancement Program

We interviewed Chrystal Section, Supervisor of the Non-Discrimination Programs Unit in the NJDOT’s Division of Civil Rights and Affirmative Action, about the department's efforts to ...
Exploring Strategic Workforce Development – Model Programs, Partnerships and Lessons from Oregon

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development – Model Programs, Partnerships and Lessons from Oregon

We spoke with representatives from Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI) to explore their roles and partnership in ...
Exploring Strategic Workforce Development:  An Interview with NJDOT’s Human Resources

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: An Interview with NJDOT’s Human Resources

We spoke with Kelly Hutchinson, Director, Human Resources at NJDOT about ongoing and planned workforce development initiatives at NJDOT. ...

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development – Model Programs, Partnerships and Lessons from Oregon

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private firms communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector. Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We interviewed representatives from Oregon’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI), including Angela Crain (ODOT Civil Rights Manager), Cye Fink (ODOT Workforce Development and Civil Rights/EE Manager) and Larry Williams (BOLI, Operations and Policy Analyst).  We sought to explore the distinct roles and partnership between the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI) in funding, promoting, and providing technical assistance for on-the-job training programs, and pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, to support all workers including women, minorities and other disadvantaged individuals seeking to enter highway construction and other related fields.

Highway Construction Workforce Development Program

Q. Can you please share with us, based on your experience, your thoughts on what seems to be an overall lack of awareness– especially among women and minority persons – of jobs or careers in the highway construction industry?

The ODOT Office of Civil Rights uses FHWA funding to support On the Job Training and Supportive Services.

The ODOT Office of Civil Rights uses FHWA funding to support On the Job Training and Supportive Services.

The lack of awareness primarily stems from the school systems. For years, school guidance counselors have not promoted any path but college to most of their students.  Highway construction is presented as a viable career only to those students who are not going on to college.

We work to raise awareness of careers in highway construction by disseminating information on these opportunities to school counselors and parents, as they are the support system for children. Careers in highway construction offer competitive paying jobs with family- supporting wages. We are trying to reach the students, beginning at the elementary school level because, unless students know someone who works in construction, they are mostly unaware of the career options in the field.

Some of the most successful linkages have been made by teachers who work in construction during the summer months and bring their experience back to the students. For example, they will use construction-related math curricula in the classroom. Shop classes, which were useful in helping students become familiar with tools and various trades, are rarely offered anymore due to budget cuts.

Information about the majority of our DOT programs is spread by word of mouth. We use the testimonials of individuals who have been through our programs, and we do a lot of outreach to communicate personal success stories of program participants. We also work with our partners, Building Trades Councils of Oregon, Akana, Oregon Tradeswomen, and other stakeholders and agencies, to get the word out. And we, of course, participate in career fairs, and high school Career and Technical Education programs to build the career pipeline. As far as encouraging Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and women candidates, our numbers are growing steadily each year with more starting and finishing our programs, but the ratio is still not where we want it to be.

The Oregon Bureaus of Labor & Industries is responsible for pre-pre-apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and apprenticeship programs.

The Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries is responsible for pre-pre-apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and apprenticeship programs.

Q. We understand that 2009 legislation created Oregon’s Highway Construction Workforce Development Program (HCWDP) designed to diversify six heavy construction trades related to highway construction including carpenters and cement masons. This nationally recognized innovative initiative enables registered apprentices and those preparing to enter an apprenticeship in one of these trades to receive support in ten areas, including child care, travel expenses, lodging/meal allowance, tools, and PPE, among others. Are all of these efforts supported through HCWDP?

We use FHWA and state dollars to fund the program and follow federal regulations (23 CFR Part 230) that lay out what these 10 supportive services have to look like. In 2009, the Oregon legislature passed a bill that required ODOT to provide On-the-Job Training and workforce development supportive services, applying language from the federal regulations. Once this law was established there could be no question that the funding would be dedicated to the program rather than other priorities, such as road repair. Since this focus on workforce development is embedded in Oregon statute, ODOT has a pathway for consistent funding.

In 2016 we added hardship assistance to the list of available supports offered by HCWDP. Overall, we are working to support people in getting on a career track by offering supportive services that enable them to stay in the programs and eventually reach journey worker status, which offers meaningful long-term career development. The heavy highway trades are the focus of the program because the workers are mobile. Although there may be layoffs or projects end, as long as they stay in the system, participants will continue to have the opportunity to work on ODOT projects so they can graduate to journey worker status.

Q. ODOT and the BOLI have partnered to meet the goals of adding more diversity in hiring, increasing apprenticeship numbers and providing resources for training. What have been the key benefits of ODOT partnering with BOLI?

Our partnership with BOLI has been vital to our success. In Oregon, BOLI oversees apprenticeships and approves pre-apprenticeship programs. BOLI’s key value to HCWDP comes from their connections with their subcontractors who have experience in promoting and supporting workforce development in the highway construction trades, particularly among women and minorities. BOLI works with the contractors affiliated with the training programs, has authority over the contractors, and maintains a database to track the apprentices. When workers graduate to the journey worker level, they can work anywhere within the state and nationwide. This program offers meaningful, long-term career development.

The ODOT/BOLI collaboration provides needed supports to help people stay in the apprenticeship programs.

The ODOT/BOLI collaboration provides needed supports to help people stay in the apprenticeship programs.

There is no value in ODOT having its own apprenticeship-type programs when BOLI is providing them in alignment with US DOL. We at ODOT are embedding elements in the program including respectful workplaces, Green Dot, Riseup, and third party oversight through Portland State University, who are helping us with planning. Additionally, BOLI receives grants to target particular workforce areas; they leverage our resources at ODOT, while we simultaneously leverage their resources.

From the BOLI perspective, the partnership with ODOT allows BOLI to provide the support side to the apprenticeship programs. If you have the apprentices out there, you need to have the supports in place to help them succeed.

In most cases, BOLI has closed gaps in terms of completion rates for underrepresented demographic groups. For African American men, there has been improvement, but we want to close the gap further. There may be barriers that still need to be addressed. In addition, we have shown that the program works, as it is improving success rates, but it is only available to those apprentices associated with the highway construction trades. For example, we provide child care for a cement mason but not a brick mason. That is an area of concern for BOLI as they seek to determine ways to provide similar supports for other trades moving forward.

Apprenticeships and Pre-apprenticeships

Q. ODOT and BOLI have focused on improving opportunities for individuals who graduate from a pre-apprenticeship program to get more trade-specific training and improved access to registration into a highway trade apprenticeship program. What can you share about this work?

Apprenticeships in Oregon are regulated and supported by BOLI and offer on the job training and classroom training and typically require 2-5 years to complete and may be union-based or open shop. We focus on connecting pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships.

Under the BOLI umbrella, there are apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeship, and pre-pre-apprenticeship programs. Pre-pre-apprenticeships help people overcome basic gaps to complete prerequisites needed for pre-apprenticeships, such as needing a driver’s license, GED or high school diploma. The pre-apprenticeship might provide skills training for those who need hours learning to use tools.

We have worked on direct entry with some of the trades so individuals can join an apprenticeship program without completing the ranking process or interview because the pre-apprenticeship has helped them prepare for the job, with some individuals also bringing work history that enables them to skip one or more levels of training. They have to complete the application and meet minimum qualifications that can be simply being 18 years old and having a high school diploma or GED, and in other cases, may require a minimum level of math proficiency, for example.

Q. Is this effort the same as, or part of, your On-the-Job Training (OJT)? Could you speak about your On-the-Job Training (OJT) program?

Supportive services can increase diversity in apprenticeship programs and the highway construction workforce.

Supportive services can increase diversity in apprenticeship programs and the highway construction workforce.

On-the-Job Training/Supportive Services program funding from FHWA is internally directed to STEM/Engineering outreach, recruitment, and support. OJT is a very small piece of what we at ODOT do; only about two people every year go through this OJT training because most contractors are affiliated with a formal apprenticeship program.

ODOT and FHWA created OJT for candidates with no experience to offer them a chance to begin work with a contractor directly. As part of the federal regulations, OJT is provided through each project. If the contractor awarded the contract has no affiliation as a training agent themselves or they are not Oregon-based, and have no formal apprenticeship program, they can use one of our in-house training programs to fulfill the contractual requirement.

It is the small contractor or the first-time prime who would use this OJT option.  We provide some incentives, including reimbursing $20/hour for every apprenticeship hour. An individual with no prior experience who applies off the street with that contractor must receive training. The contractor is paying journey worker level pay, and OJT does provide a means to recruit candidates from underrepresented groups. It’s a business choice that the contractor makes. The 2,000-hour OJT program trains for labor skills sets, and we also have a 6,000-hour construction project management program. This informal training is not tied to a path to journey worker status but there is the potential for the individual to have direct entry into the apprenticeship system after completing the OJT training.

Q. We know that reliable transportation and childcare are often cited as roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates. Can you tell us how supportive services such as childcare and payment of travel costs help sustain apprentices?

Offering incentives and support services for apprentices is critical to their success. Childcare is a big issue. It’s not only single moms who face childcare challenges, but any single parent and/or underemployed families. Awareness of the HCWDP childcare support options has spread through word of mouth.

Work hours for highway construction are long. For example, apprentices may leave their house at 4:00 am to travel 40 miles to the worksite and work 10-hours. The challenges for us in supporting childcare include the costs and finding a provider that has capacity and offers their services in off-peak hours. ODOT/BOLI uses the state childcare provider certification system to identify providers. We give incentives to providers so that they can offer alternative hours to accommodate the long work days. We don’t have enough funds to subsidize all the childcare needed. Childcare is provided using a BOLI-determined sliding scale formula based on economic need and wage rate; the support level declines as the individuals progress through the system and earn higher wages.

The Pre-Apprenticeship Child Care Initiative (PACCI) program began as a pilot to provide childcare supports to pre-apprentices but is now a part of the general operation. Pre-apprenticeship programs, which are often 8-12 week courses in the classroom, may provide on-site child care. We are indirectly supporting these childcare opportunities.

Everything we do helps keep people on the path to journey work. With the regional wildfires displacing workers, we have been distributing hardship funds. Apprentices are eligible for this support. The transition between pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeships is accomplished through Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committees (JATCs) and we work with them to connect to the primes and contractors. There is usually a waiting list of apprentices available.

One difficult challenge that we are seeing is that primes are looking for apprentices with three to four years of experience. They have less incentive to pick up the first-year apprentices who will require more supervision and training. We are trying to address this issue and find ways to support these individuals within the system to acquire experience.

BOLI helps individuals find where to start on the path to a journeyworker position and, through its partners, provides support along the way.

BOLI helps individuals find where to start on the path to a journeyworker position and, through its partners, provides support along the way.

Q. What can you share with us about the newer “Build your future. Build Oregon.” initiative and what special efforts are being undertaken to generate interest among underrepresented demographic groups?

ODOT receives federal and state funding for the workforce development program. Through an interagency agreement BOLI provides contract administration and ODOT holds BOLI accountable for the 10 required support areas of the program. BOLI then contracts out all these deliverables through a competitive process. We collaborate with BOLI on the subcontracting deliverables At any one time, BOLI might have six to eight subcontractors. One of the partners, Akana, embraced how to implement all these support services through one of these contracts, and they branded the supportive services piece as “Build your future. Build Oregon.” This effort has helped broadcast information about the workforce development program throughout Oregon and helps make more people aware of various program elements and assistance available.

Q. Are you aware of any model practices currently in use among community-based organizations to support women, minorities, and others looking at the construction trades?

Three Oregon-based organizations that provide support for underrepresented populations are: Oregon Tradeswomen which helps women build economic independence; Constructing Hope which is a pre-apprenticeship program in Portland; and Akana which is a Native American-owned, private sector, for-profit organization.

To increase awareness in careers in construction, Akana presents a podcast occasionally. Oregon Tradeswomen historically runs a women and trades fair with dedicated times for adults and for students. This is an opportunity for individuals to meet with people in the trades and talk about those trades and what careers paths they offer. (The fair has been on hiatus due to Covid-19.)

Q. How do you reach people who are no longer in school?

The average age for apprentices is 29 for males, and a little older for women. Some are seeking a second career, or maybe they have some construction experience, but it was limited to residential construction. To raise awareness of the HCWDP program, we work with various membership groups including: the National Association of Minority Contractors; Portland business development groups; Project Working Groups; Chambers of Commerce; veterans; advisory groups; and Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance programs on and near tribal reservations.

We have found that it is important to help people know where to start. We are working on simplifying the on-ramp to the whole system and providing a flow chart to help describe access to the system. We are looking forward to in-person recruitment events again after the last couple of years of virtual meetings.

Looking Ahead

Q. Do you have any concluding thoughts or advice on what strategies NJDOT can pursue to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the construction industry?

Seek and access the available FHWA funding, and direct it to your workforce development or OJT/Supportive Services programs. You can accomplish what we have in Oregon without legislative mandates. A lot of states work off their annual FHWA allocation but this would be only about $78,000 for Oregon – definitely not enough to build a workforce development program. Instead, work with your organization and your FHWA division field office to access other federal funding and more recently available Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act (IIJA) dollars.  Without these additional funds, we would not have adequate funding for all our programs and to grow the pipeline and help people move to journey worker status.

In terms of career progression opportunities beyond journey worker, participants could start their own business, maybe becoming a DBE or WBE, and graduate from a DBE program and become a contractor.

It is important to recognize that time is needed to measure success of initiatives like HCWDP, as participants will need two to six years to progress through the system. We have been at this for years and have dedicated partners. You need the sustained funding. There will be no big impact achieved if you can only give out a little bit of money each year to support efforts.

Resources

Akana
http://akana.us/
http://akana.us/odot-boli-main/odot-boli-apprentices/
http://akana.us/odot-boli-main/odot-boli-applicants/

Constructing Hope
https://www.constructinghope.org/

Federal Highway Administration On the Job Training and Supportive Services
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/civilrights/programs/ojt.cfm

National Association of Minority Contractors
https://namcnational.org/

ODOT/BOLI Highway Construction Workforce Development Program Final Report IAA 30668 July 2015 – June 2017
https://www.oregon.gov/odot/Business/OCR/SiteAssets/Pages/Workforce-Development/ODOT_BOLI_Highway_Construction_Workforce_Development_Program_2017.pdf

Oregon State Building Trades Council
https://www.oregonbuildingtrades.com/

Oregon Tradeswomen
https://oregontradeswomen.org/

Real Help for Working Oregonians – The BOLI_ODOT Workforce Development Program
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sNS5xV9Pa8

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: An Interview with NJDOT’s Human Resources

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Kelly Hutchinson, Director, Human Resources at NJDOT about ongoing and planned workforce development initiatives at NJDOT.

Workforce Development at NJDOT

Q. We know that NJDOT engages in a variety of innovative programs to attract and retain your workforce. Could you update us on the status of some of these programs?

Operations Apprenticeship Program

NJDOT’s Operations Apprentice Program offers a structured path to advancement

NJDOT’s Operations Apprentice Program offers a structured path to advancement.

This program began in 2015 to provide consistent training and skills for workers in Highway Operations and to establish a path to advancement and has focused on developing a job title structure and staffing profile for participants as well as both on-the-job and classroom training. We are still promoting the program and trying to get our numbers where we want them to be. We will be testing our third of four groups of mid-level individuals at the end of April 2022.

NJ Supervisory Training Empowering Performance (STEP) Training

This program is focused on teaching management skills and several hundred NJDOT employees have completed this very beneficial initiative. The Civil Service Commission provides this training, which has been on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic as instructors prefer in-person classes. We offer a two-day, in-house training on DOT-specific supervisory issues like the supervisor’s role in promoting staff, leaves of absence, working test periods, performance assessment reviews (PARS) and discipline to build on what participants learn in STEP, but we may opt to offer this in-house training first if there is an ongoing delay in STEP availability. We have a lot of new staff advancing to supervisory and managerial roles who could benefit from this training. We would also bring in small groups from this supervisory cohort to participate in and benefit from a few Lunch & Learn sessions. In the past, these smaller group sessions have been very helpful for sharing experiences.

Leadership Academy

This is a Transportation specific Leadership Academy that focuses on the importance of soft skills related to management. In April, the NJ Turnpike Authority will be hosting this program locally with instruction from Dr. Tom DeCoster. Many of our manager-level and future directors will be attending, along with staff from NJ TRANSIT and the Turnpike Authority.

Skill Enhancement for Clerical and Administrative Professionals (SECAP)

This program was originally focused on skill enhancement for staff in clerical positions. Now, more individuals are being hired to fill administrative professional roles, rather than the traditional clerical roles. Persons with technical capabilities, such as policy writing and budget preparation, are filling these roles. In response, we are considering revamping this program to best support the needed skill sets related to these positions.

Administrative College

This program is ongoing and focuses on offering courses on topics such as financial wellness, mental and physical health, and technical skills that can be mastered in a couple of hours. We conducted a survey pre-pandemic to identify what our employees wanted in Administrative College courses.

Promotion of Asst. Engineers to Senior Engineers

NJDOT engineers participate in on-site training as part of a program that moves individuals from journey level to mid-level positions.

NJDOT engineers participate in on-site training as part of a program that moves individuals from journey level to mid-level positions.

This effort was initiated about seven years ago and we have continued the practice, adding programs for most journey level professional titles in Human Resources, Budget, Planning, Accounting, and Information Technology. When participants have completed one year past their initial training and have been in their journeyman title for two years, management determines whether they are performing higher level work and have mastered the technical skills to be considered a technical expert in the particular area. After three years, they may be considered for reclassification.  Management makes recommendations and provides written justifications to advance persons based on established criteria and must describe why they are recommending an individual, or why they are not. HR ensures that each individual has completed enough time in the title and gives a provisional appointment, but the candidate needs to pass the Civil Service exam to confirm their promotion.

This effort reflects both a retention strategy and a strategy to help bridge the supervisory gap resulting from retirements.

Succession Planning

Promoting continual skill development among NJDOT staff is a priority.

Promoting continual skill development among NJDOT staff is a priority.

Moving forward, NJDOT succession planning training and development will likely be less formalized than the previous NJDOT program. In this former program, participants were selected through an application process, which, in my opinion, may not have been ideal for all employees. Training and development should happen daily, at all levels, and should not be programmed by Human Resources. We are looking to promote parity, transparency and equity through the training programs we just spoke about. Our Leadership Academy and STEP program help workers to advance and instruct supervisors on how to support training and development of all employees. We are depending on management and senior leadership to work on a smaller scale. We want to provide the same level of opportunity to everyone and see who rises to the occasion.

Q. In a presentation to NJ STIC last June, former NJDOT Human Resources Director Michele Shapiro noted that you would be working on trainings for both the Construction Inspectors Apprenticeship program and the Engineering Technician Apprenticeship program. What is the status of these new programs? Do you anticipate developing similar programs for other job titles?

We have the new titles in place, but we do not have the formalized training program developed yet. I have spoken with Asst. Commissioner Snehal Patel and we will be collaborating with the Construction Director to start building the program this summer. Our plan is to update the existing 10-module program for the Resident Engineer Construction Inspectors to adapt to the Apprenticeship program.

Q. We had heard of the possible expansion of experience-based hiring. Are there any updates to this initiative?

Automotive and Electrical Mechanics would be the titles we are considering for a possible formalized program. There are trainees now but we don’t have a formal program. With all the advances in technology, we would like to find a community college partner to provide training and build a title structure based on the new technologies and see if it would increase the salary determination. We have trouble competing with private industries for candidates from these two trades. We are continuing efforts to receive approval for the program from Civil Service but effort was halted with the pandemic.

Q. Does NJDOT have plans to offer internships or similar positions?

We have a Summer Student program called Temporary Employment Services primarily targeted to professional titles. We do not refer to the program as an internship because participants are paid but do not earn academic credit. Typically, we accept rising college seniors, but if applications are light in a given cycle, we sometimes accept sophomores and freshmen as well. Pre-pandemic, it was a great pipeline for permanent positions with the department. In 2019, we had 55 students in the program, paid $20/hour, and 20 percent were hired for full-time positions with NJDOT. With our late start this year, we will have 20 participants. Some may stay with us into the school year, working part-time up to 944 hours per year as permitted by Civil Service.

NJDOT Human Resources staff attend career fairs to raise awareness of rewarding jobs in transportation.

NJDOT Human Resources staff attend career fairs to raise awareness of rewarding jobs in transportation.

The program is beneficial to participants as they receive work experience while earning wages. We recruit candidates via virtual and in-person career fairs, partnerships with alumni of the program and community organizations, campus organizations and using Handshake (an app that connects students on college campuses with open positions, mainly internships and entry level jobs). When we meet with students and other prospective hires, we focus on communicating how NJDOT offers dynamic, interesting, rewarding, and purposeful career opportunities.

Our talent acquisition team facilitates recruitment efforts and includes a diverse group of DOT subject matter experts in addition to our Human Resource representatives. Specifically, members of the team reflect a diversity of ages, genders, races/ethnicities, and career stages. Some are alumni of the Temporary Employment Services program. Also important, team member subject matter expertise varies (e.g., structural, environmental). We have found success with the talent acquisition team as members make personal connections with candidates as they discuss their roles at DOT and opportunities with the department.

Developing the Highway Construction Workforce

Q. There seems to be a lack of awareness – especially among women and minority persons – about jobs/careers in the highway construction industry. Do you know of programs that have been effective at building awareness of job opportunities in transportation in New Jersey?

To recruit a diverse workforce, NJDOT Human Resources focuses on forging relationships with community organizations such as the Society for Hispanic Engineers, Society for African American engineers, Asian American engineers, LGBTQ+, and STEM programs.  We use LinkedIn a great deal to target engineers and collaborate with New Jersey Youth Corps to spread the word on career opportunities at NJDOT.

We also successfully partnered with the Trenton Soup Kitchen, working with job specialists to inform those accessing the kitchen about construction apprenticeships and Highway Operations Tech positions. We have partnered with the National High School Guidance Counselors Association for New Jersey and were able to post in their newsletter about job opportunities that do not require experience via our highway operations tech program.

NJDOT’s programs for career are effective recruitment and retention tools.

NJDOT’s programs for career are effective recruitment and retention tools.

In 2019, we increased representation of African American male applicants by 93 percent for Highway Operations Tech positions. We achieved this goal by reaching out to our many community partners, with 100 African American applicants from the Trenton Soup Kitchen. Finally, we partner with the NJ Department of Labor, One-Stop offices, and attend county and other virtual and in-person job fairs.

Q. Reliable transportation and child care are often cited as roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates. What strategies could help to address these issues? Are you aware of any model practices or programs to support women and minority populations looking at the highway construction trades?

We had a program for parolees several years ago that focused on identifying job opportunities for them in locations with good transportation networks, such as Jersey City and Newark.

NJDOT does offer an employee subscription van pool (pre-COVID-19) that accesses various public transit stops near DOT headquarters.

The newly announced Trenton MOVES project seeks to deploy 100 on-demand Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) throughout the state capital; when deployed, it could prove to be great service for helping people access employment opportunities.

Q. Have you worked with the NJ Council of County Colleges to look at possible programs that might advance NJDOT’s goals for workforce development? Do you work with the NJDOL Office of Apprenticeship?

We do collaborate with NJ DOL and with the One-Stops and Career Centers. However, our apprenticeships are not true apprenticeships by federal labor standards, but have similar components. Because we work with Civil Service titles, it is much more difficult for us to be recognized as an official apprenticeship program.

We also have a tuition aid and reimbursement program, at the public college rate, for employees as long as their course of study relates to transportation.

"Yes, we can work with them and are very interested in building these relationships."

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

Creation and implementation of an awareness campaign to highlight construction career opportunities would be helpful, as such an effort could amplify the message that you don’t have to look a certain way to work in construction. The campaign should highlight the diversity of workers and work options in the construction industry. A team of “ambassadors” comprised of local union representatives, NJDOT staff, and others can describe the different kinds of work available within construction and showcase opportunities to increase interest in the profession.

Q. There have been a number of grant funding opportunities through the Department of Labor for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. Is NJDOT able to work with other organizations or academic institutions to build programs using these funds?

Yes, we can work with them and are very interested in building these relationships.

Resources

NJ STEP. Civil Service Commission | NJ Supervisory Training Empowering Performance (NJ STEP).

NJDOT Division of Human Resources. Current Openings & Application Process.

NJDOT Division of Human Resources. KM Toolbox: Last Lecture on Operations Apprenticeship Program.  Presentation to NJ STIC, 2nd Quarter Meeting, 2021

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development in NJ: An Interview with the IUOE Local 825

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA promotes Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Greg Lalevee, Business Manager, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825.  The organization is collaborating with Hudson County Community College (HCCC) on a newly established apprenticeship program and is undertaking other IUOE initiatives focused on workforce development in highway construction and related fields.

Background

Q. Can you tell us a little about your role with the union?

I am the Business Manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825. The jurisdiction of IUOE Local 825 is the State of New Jersey and the Hudson Valley (Rockland, Ulster, Sullivan, Orange, and Delaware Counties). We are heavy equipment operators, working on buildings, bridges, roadways, ports, airports, utility infrastructure, power generation, and reservoirs around the state such as Round Valley, Spruce Run, and Mercer Lake that ensure our water supply and serve for passive recreation. There isn’t much that an ordinary person does that operating engineers did not have something to do with. We have a 61-acre training center at exit 8A on the NJ Turnpike and a 51-acre training center in the Hudson Valley. I am also one of the vice-presidents for IUOE International, which covers the US and Canada.

Union members are engaged in many kinds of work using heavy equipment, including highway and bridge construction.

Union members engage in many kinds of work using heavy equipment, including highway and bridge construction.

Q. Overall, what professions does IUOE support?

Aside from heavy equipment operators, our members do construction layout and surveying for infrastructure projects. Several members work as mechanics/product support for machinery product lines including Caterpillar, Deere, and Komatsu.

Q. Before we delve into your new IUOE program with Hudson County Community College (HCCC), please tell us, based on your experience, if there is a lack of awareness– especially among women and minority persons – for jobs/careers in the highway construction industry?

The lack of awareness for construction careers reflects a multi-tiered situation. In contrast to those residing in more rural areas, prospective job candidates residing in urban areas typically live “vertically” in high-rises and thus are familiar with professions including plumbers and electricians but not so much the work of operating engineers. They are not typically exposed to professions utilizing heavy machinery.

For the last seven years, I have reached out to political and community leaders in several NJ cities to try to develop a direct-entry program that would bring training opportunities to those communities for jobs that are semi-skilled or lower-skilled. The goal was to work collaboratively with community leaders to create a pipeline for young people to enter the workforce as operating engineers. To operate heavy equipment, one needs hands-on training. Our training facility is on the Turnpike in Middlesex County, which is difficult to access for anyone without a car. In one city, we proposed that we set up basic courses, including OSHA 30-hour construction training and Hazardous Material training, in a school, or faith-based or community center, and we would send an instructor. The participants would be working locally during this time, earning money and accruing benefits. When the trainees had acquired some basic training we would then send the simulator to that location and these individuals could start to acquire hands-on training. After 18-24 months of paid training, they may be able to purchase a vehicle and thereby access the training center. Or we might be able to partner with a faith-based or community center to work out a transportation plan for those facing transport obstacles. I proposed this concept in four NJ cities but, frustratingly, did not receive any positive responses.

IUOE Local 825’s 61-acre training center is located at exit 8A on the NJ Turnpike.

IUOE Local 825’s 61-acre training center is located at exit 8A on the NJ Turnpike.

Q. Several commonly cited roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates, include transportation issues and childcare. What strategies could help to address these issues?

Both transportation and childcare issues can be roadblocks to entry into the construction sector. One of the reasons we pursued the NJ PLACE 2.0 grant with a higher education partner was to open the door to Pell grants to underwrite transportation or childcare costs through existing grant funding opportunities that a traditional union apprenticeship would not be eligible. In the past year we received accreditation as a standalone licensed technical college to help us open the doors to more job candidates. As we pursue programs in higher education, we can now take advantage of not only NJ Department of Labor grants, but NJ Department of Education grants as well.

Q. Do you see a role for unions like IUOE in helping to reduce barriers for women, minorities, and others in entering the highway construction trades?

Recently, the Operating Engineers fought to have highway construction work be subject to project labor agreements (PLAs). When it was written twenty years ago, the original legislation exempted this field from these agreements. We retooled the legislation to include much more aggressive percentages of women and minorities required on projects and helped to secure its passage by the legislature. These percentages now apply to any construction project with a value of $5M or more. However, since the law was passed and signed by the Governor in April 2021, the State has not used a PLA on any project.

On-site heavy equipment operator training at IUOE Local 825’s training center.

On-site heavy equipment operator training at IUOE Local 825’s training center.

Participation numbers for female and minority employees on these publicly-funded highway projects are generally set on a county-by-county basis by NJDOT. One of the reasons we strongly support inclusion in PLA is because when our contractors secure a publicly-funded highway job, they often contact IUOE to request our assistance in reaching these goals. We respond affirmatively, but when we offer to help with this recruitment, follow-up from contractors is not forthcoming. The reason is that these participation numbers are goals, not mandates and it would be difficult to make them mandates.

There is a false perception that unions don’t have their doors open to all, and that there is not equity or diversity amongst the ranks. We actively recruit people from the non-union world. However, in the 21 years since I was hired by IUOE, we have only encountered two men of color and one woman working non-union jobs operating heavy equipment. There are few women and minorities working non-union operating equipment; it seems that there is not a real draw to this occupation. So the issue is broader than just the unions.

About five years ago, the number of paving projects in the State was increasing and we saw that our front line paving operators were aging. To address demand, we recruited 36 candidates to join a full-immersion paving training initiative. With paving shut down for the winter, we were able to hire and bring in seasoned major paving contractors as instructors during their off-season. The participants were instructed on one piece of paving equipment for 14-weeks until we knew they could run it proficiently. They were then absorbed by the paving industry for high-paying work during the summer and were brought back each winter over a five-year period to learn another piece of paving equipment. It’s not an apprenticeship program so we were not bound by apprentice rules, but we were able to train a diverse group. Of the 36, over one-third were minorities and women, and one-third were veterans. None of these people were associated with our union. In all, while the paving industry is unique, and our training school had the capacity to respond to this particular need, it represents an example of how thinking outside the box and proactively recruiting targeted groups can be very successful.

The IUOE Local 825 training facility occupies 61 acres where journeyworkers and apprentices can train on a large array of heavy equipment. https://www.iuoe825.org/home/training/

The IUOE Local 825 training facility occupies 61 acres where journeyworkers and apprentices can train on a large array of heavy equipment.

Q. We have heard that pre-apprenticeship programs are growing in popularity across the country. Are you aware of any pre-apprenticeship programs for the highway construction trades in NJ?

Pre-apprenticeship programs are not growing in the highway construction trades, but are happening in the building trades. I have concerns though with the pre-apprenticeship programs that I am aware of. For example, some pre-apprenticeship programs offer testing help that provide individuals with tutors to teach them how to pass the union apprenticeship written test. The percentage of these students who are actually admitted into the apprenticeship program does not appear to be that high however. Candidates are ranked by test score, so those that receive testing assistance might secure an interview, but they typically score lower in the written portion of the apprenticeship exam compared to their peers and thus do not advance. Overall, the competition for these positions is fierce.

The Earn & Learn program was funded by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant through the NJ Department of Labor.

The Earn & Learn program was funded by a NJ PLACE 2.0 grant through the NJ Department of Labor.

IUOE Program with HCCC

Q. We know the Earn & Learn program orientation with Hudson County Community College was a few weeks ago [in January 2022]. How is program implementation going so far?

We understand that all 30 students are still enrolled and thriving. This cohort includes 10 minorities, 6 women, and 6 veterans so this is an opportunity to support diversity. For many of them, this is a continuation of their college education, and some are eager to pursue an occupation where they will earn $80-100,000 a year. The NJ PLACE 2.0 grant supports inclusion of a success coach to help keep the students on track, which is helpful. The students will be at our training center in May to begin traditional operating engineer training in the classroom and with equipment.

Q.Will all of your apprentices go through this program in the future, or are there multiple paths to a career in construction?

We have our own very competitive apprenticeship program with 160 people. There’s been a lot written about a skill gaps and a worker shortage. We want to develop a new apprenticeship model and have hired an academic who will begin working with us this spring to help develop some new apprenticeship tracks.

Students gain hands-on experience at IUOE Local 825’s NJ training center.

Students gain hands-on experience at IUOE Local 825’s NJ training center.

We have had a successful process for soliciting apprenticeship applicants in the last two traditional application cycles. There is a date and time when applications are available and the first 250 people in line receive one. The opportunity is posted on the Tuesday after Labor Day. We advertise in the paper and on social media. We have candidates lining up for a week ahead of time. For the Earn & Learn program with Hudson County Community College, the on-line application was opened and the portal had to be shut down in two hours due to the high response.

One gap we are eager to bridge is from the Vo-Tech programs to our apprenticeship program. Individuals have to be 18 years old and a high school graduate to enter an apprenticeship program, but some students are 17 when they graduate from Vo-Tech so we lose this cohort. We are trying to harmonize the end of Vo-Tech education with the beginning of an apprenticeship. Traditionally, our apprenticeship program begins in April. For the Earn & Learn program, we changed the start date to January to align with the academic calendar. Any changes to our apprenticeship programs must be approved by the federal government. Sometimes this process means that we can’t move as quickly as we would want.

People will tell me they can’t find workers, but we can get people; there is a lot of interest in our Operating Engineers apprenticeship program. Several of the other trade union apprenticeship programs are very competitive as well, including the Carpenters and the Ironworkers. The Carpenters union had an arrangement with East Brunswick Vo-Tech for direct entry to the union apprenticeship program for up to three students upon graduation from the carpentry program. The Vo-Tech sends students who are well-prepared and likely to succeed. I am trying to mirror that arrangement with Middlesex County Vo-Tech Career and Technical Education program.

Q. Do you see IUOE Local 825 collaborating with other institutions on similar programs in the future?

Absolutely and with multiple higher education partners and members of the business sector whom we have not yet identified. Hudson County Community College has a construction management program that offers 6-8 courses that build the “perfect operating engineer” and HCCC’s Lori Margolin and I are discussing how we could organize those courses together into a different type of degree program in the future. There are existing programs at other state education institutions that we have been considering as well. We might be able to take advantage of remote learning opportunities.

IUOE 825 will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with HCCC and other higher education institutions.

IUOE 825 will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with HCCC and other higher education institutions.

We are also very interested in the transportation-related activities at Rutgers-CAIT (Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation) and testing on bridge work. Rowan University has ongoing asphalt research and recently visited the IUOE training center to see if they could use some of the area for asphalt testing and of course we would support that.

Every year, we have a full-immersion asphalt paving class. A major manufacturer of paving equipment has been visiting our site in the past week teaching our journeyworkers and apprentices about the latest technology on their equipment. We have the equipment dealer with the product support staff and mechanics participate and share the service bulletins and the new information. And the dealers get the word out to members of the broader construction community who can attend these events.

These are ways we will continue to collaborate with the educational world and the business world in the future. We can leverage our 8,000 members, 1,400 employers, 120 pieces of heavy equipment, and 61 acres in New Jersey and 51 acres in the Hudson Valley. We have the laboratory and want to establish synergies and diverse partnerships to support the industry.

As the burgeoning field of automation and robotics for heavy equipment grows, I sit on an IUOE International subcommittee where we are discussing the skill sets and training needed to prepare an individual to be a successful remote equipment operator or REO. We can work with the computer engineers to let them know what aspects of heavy equipment operation may not be transferable to computers and what alternatives there might be to support their efforts.

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

A key reason why our organization migrated toward the higher education piece is because we believe that we will secure a more diverse population of job candidates by doing so. Specifically, offering an avenue to earn an Associate’s degree is helping to increase awareness for construction and operating engineer careers.

Students in Somerset County’s MEAM program participated in an Operating Engineer Awareness program and IUOE’s training facility.

Students in Somerset County’s MEAM program participated in an Operating Engineer Awareness program and IUOE’s training facility.

Moving forward, our long-term goal is to implement more of a college application process rather than continue the traditional apprentice application process.  We are also seeking partnerships with the Vo-Tech system since most of the traditional high schools do not have programs that align as well with our goals and needs.

I am on the Board of Somerset County Vo-Tech and my daughter is a guidance counselor at Middlesex County Vo-Tech so we know the system fairly well. We wanted to provide students from Somerset’s Mechatronics, Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing program (MEAM) an opportunity to learn about IUOE and visit our campus. In academic parlance, our program fits in the Advanced Manufacturing sector. I worked with the superintendent to secure a small grant for an Operating Engineer Awareness program at Somerset. We developed a curriculum to introduce the students interested in construction to the occupation of construction engineer, and transported the students to our campus to see and experience the equipment. We are also helping the district with OSHA training, and with welding, and are seeking other opportunities to work together. Ocean and Hunterdon Counties have Equipment Operator programs that are simulator-based but we have not yet received a lot of interest from them in working with us. East Brunswick Vo-Tech is very close to our campus and we have students visit from there as well.

Q. Through their on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, by focusing on training and recruitment programs aimed at women, minorities, and others. Do you have any thoughts about how NJDOT might pursue this goal?

NJDOT should consider implementing several model project labor agreements, collaborating with the different trades, with all participants making a concerted effort to increase the number of women and minorities on a project. The outcome of this effort could be presented as a showcase and best practice example statewide. It is important to recognize that when we set the hiring goals to include a certain percentage of women and minorities, we have to plan to engage in a collaborative effort with the successful bidding contractor to reach those goals. Rather than penalize a contractor if they experience challenges in achieving the diversity goals, we need to determine strategies for how to reach them and secure their buy-in to reach these diversity goals.

Exploring Strategic Workforce Development: An Interview with the Office of Apprenticeship, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL)

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

FHWA is promoting Strategic Workforce Development in highway maintenance, construction and operations.

Strategic Workforce Development, an FHWA Every Day Counts (EDC) Round 6 innovative initiative, anticipates collaboration between government agencies, trade organizations, private agencies and communities to prepare individuals for the construction workforce. The demand for workers in highway maintenance, construction and operations is growing, as is the demand for new skill sets required for  work with emerging technologies. An important element of this initiative is the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in the construction sector.  Through on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, including programs aimed at increasing representation of women, minorities, and other disadvantaged populations in the construction and operations workforce.

We spoke with Nick Toth, Director, New Jersey Office of Apprenticeship, NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) to learn about the State’s role in funding, promoting, and providing technical assistance for on-the-job training programs, and pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, to support all workers including women, minorities and other disadvantaged individuals seeking to enter highway construction and other related fields.

Background

Q.  Can you tell us a little bit about your role in the Office of Apprenticeship at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development?

NJ DOL provides funding for apprenticeship and other training programs.

NJDOL has six grant programs to promote workforce development in the State.

I am the director of the New Jersey Office of Apprenticeship in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. I was hired into this position to develop the first Office of Apprenticeship. In 2018, Governor Murphy announced the New Jersey Apprenticeship Network to invest in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs throughout the state. We developed a host of grant programs and have grown from a staff of one to twelve people. We currently oversee six grants, including two grant programs for the New Jersey Builders Utilization for Labor Diversity (NJ Build) Program that came under our umbrella in the past year. We provide $10-15 million in grants each year focused on supporting pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs in varying employment sectors. The key tenet of our work is to build a stronger and fairer economy with greater equity, inclusion and diversity among participants. We also focus on removing the economic barriers that inhibit access to training.

Q. Our understanding is that NJDOL supports apprenticeship initiatives via grants but that the USDOL manages apprenticeship programs in the state. Is that accurate?

New Jersey operates as a federal state, with NJDOL providing technical assistance, funding, and marketing to support pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships. However, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) is the registrar for NJ apprenticeship programs. There is no registration process for pre-apprenticeship programs. We work closely with USDOL and we have an employer engagement unit that works closely with NJ employers.

Seal of the United States Department of Labor

The USDOL is the registrar for NJ apprenticeship programs.

Q. What is the difference between the NJDOL Office of Apprenticeship and the New Jersey Apprenticeship Network?

The New Jersey Apprenticeship Network is a broad initiative focused on building partnerships and developing relationships to provide employment opportunities for New Jerseyans in a wide array of sectors. The Apprenticeship Office is part of the Network. We partner with employers, whether they are grantees or not, and we partner with other organizations.

Q. NJDOT is focused on recruiting and retaining workers in the highway construction industry. Based on your experience, is there a lack of awareness – especially among women and minority persons – for jobs and careers in the highway construction industry?   If so, do you know of programs that are building awareness for opportunities in transportation?

In general, there is a lack of awareness of what apprenticeships are and the opportunities available to workers. There is also a communication gap, both statewide and nationwide, related to the skilled trades. There is no solid messaging or awareness about the economic benefits of pursuing a trade or following a non-college path. I have not seen a concerted public awareness effort directed to women and minorities. But there’s a real economic argument to be made for apprenticeship programs. If you go through a structured apprenticeship program, you will experience hands-on training and receive a paycheck throughout the program. Some of these programs are four years and you will exit without any student loans. It is vital to better communicate and increase awareness among employers and prospective employees that apprenticeships are very different from internships.

Q. Several commonly cited roadblocks to entry into the construction sector, particularly for women and minority candidates, include transportation issues and childcare.   What strategies could help to address these issues?

I can confirm that transportation and childcare are the two most common barriers that are at the front of the discussion. For most of our grants, including the GAINS, PACE, and NJ PLACE 2.0 grants, budgeting for supportive services includes transportation and childcare as permissible uses of funds. Where our Office has leverage is in how we prescribe the way state funds can be used; we try to incentivize applicants to include this support for program participants as part of their application.

Q. Does your Office play a role in helping to reduce barriers for women, minorities, and others in entering the highway construction trades?  Also, we saw on your website that NJDOL has posted a notice of grant opportunity (January 31, 2022) called, “Women and minority groups in construction trades program.” Can you please tell us about this grant opportunity?

NJ Build Program grants are available to contractors in the construction and building trades and provide access to women and minorities to training.

NJ Build Program grants are available to contractors in the construction and building trades and provide access to women and minorities to training.

This grant opportunity is a NJ BUILD Program effort that has been available for a decade. Unfortunately, we receive low response rates to these grants which seem to be “the best kept workforce development secret,” as it can be difficult to get the word out to contractors and construction companies that are open to diversifying their workforce.

Any state agency can also apply for this grant and it is specifically written to provide access for women and minorities to apprenticeships or pre-apprenticeship training. The NJ BUILD grants are limited to the construction and building trades because of the way they are funded. By statute, a fee is assessed on public works contracts with a value above $1 million and these funds must be used for training of women and minorities in the field that is paying into that fund.

Q. We have heard that pre-apprenticeship programs are growing in popularity across the country and that NJ has the Pre-Apprenticeship in Education (PACE) program. Can you tell us about PACE and if the program focuses at all on highway construction trades in NJ?  

What are essential elements of a pre-apprenticeship program to help women, minorities, and others enter an apprenticeship program?  Are there programs that offer a direct connection between pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs?

With all our apprenticeship grants – everything outside of NJ BUILD – there is no specific focus on highway construction, but highway construction would fall under the heading of infrastructure. We would love to fund a workforce development program for those jobs, considering the federal dollars that will be coming to the state from the new federal infrastructure bill.

It is important to link pre-apprenticeship programs with apprenticeship programs so you don’t lose people between these programs. For example, in order to be eligible for a PACE grant – which is focused on high growth sectors including infrastructure – you have to have one established partnership with a registered apprenticeship program. We provide placement metric requirements to track how many pre-apprenticeship participants move to the apprenticeship program. But we also offer two other “off-ramps,” since sometimes not all participants will be able to move on to the apprenticeship, for example, if you have trained 50 people but your partner can only take 15 into their program. If participants go on to a job, a post-secondary program or career training program at a higher level, we count that as a good outcome as well.

Q. Are you aware of any model practices currently among community-based organizations to support women, minority, and others looking at the construction trades?

I use healthcare as an example. We have made significant headway in the number of women participating in registered healthcare apprenticeships, which has doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent. Some programs are over 90 percent women, with many minority participants.

Preparing students for jobs in the skilled trades is a good strategy to provide employment opportunities for all.

Preparing students for jobs in the skilled trades is a good strategy to provide employment opportunities for all.

Generally, there is less interest among job seekers in the building trades. Thirty years ago, pursuing a career in construction would have been considered on par with going to college, but we have changed a lot as a country.

From a union perspective, it would be great to see a more concerted effort to diversify union membership. But I understand that when you target economically depressed communities, there are existing barriers that inhibit people from applying. The unions need a qualified applicant pool. So, focusing on pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships as a pipeline into the sector and building awareness among young adults in high school for careers in trade are valuable strategies. In addition, raising awareness for career opportunities in construction overall and to targeted audiences is also needed. High schools are not preparing students for jobs in the trades, but rather emphasize college placement, so there are structural issues contributing to the problem.

NJDOL Grant Initiatives

The Earn & Learn collaboration between HCCC and IUOE Local 825 is funded through a NJ Place 2.0 grant.

The Earn & Learn collaboration between HCCC and IUOE Local 825 is funded through a NJ Place 2.0 grant.

Q. The "Earn and Learn" program developed between the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 825 and Hudson County Community College (HCCC) is supported with a NJ PLACE 2.0 Degree Apprenticeship Program grant. Our understanding of this innovative program is that its aim is to integrate work-based learning with post-secondary education, allowing apprentices to earn college credits and an apprentice wage simultaneously.  Are both four-year and community colleges participating in this program?   Can grantees apply for continuing funding after their initial award is spent?

The genius of the NJ PLACE 2.0 grant program is that participants simultaneously earn course credit and a paycheck via this grant that incentivizes four-year and community colleges to collaborate with organizations that have a registered apprenticeship program. Participants pursue an Associate’s degree while being paid for on-the-job training.

If a grantee’s program is doing well, they could be eligible for additional funding. Ultimately, the goal of the Office is to distribute these grant dollars to applicants with promising initiatives designed to integrate work-based learning with post-secondary education.

Q. Another initiative that your Office oversees is the GAINS, or Growing Apprenticeships in Nontraditional Sectors, program. Our understanding is that GAINS is focused on training youth, adults, and incumbent workers by developing apprenticeship programs in a wide variety of in-demand fields. Is that accurate?  For how long have you been distributing these grants?

The GAINS program focuses on in-demand fields and the hiring of women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.

The GAINS program focuses on in-demand fields and the hiring of women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.

GAINS is our flagship grant program and the first one I worked on when I came into this job. As noted, it is focused on developing apprenticeship programs in fields that are in demand. We are in our fourth program year for this annual grant. We will soon announce a $3 million funding round and will probably have another round later in the fiscal year. We have had a good uptake in the program. This round we will fund apprenticeships in nursing residency, wastewater treatment, massage therapy, electrical, cybersecurity, and for machinists, home health aides, computer systems analysts, and ironworkers. We encourage all of our applicants to hire from diverse groups and our application evaluation criteria are based on inclusion of people of color, people with disabilities, women and veterans.

Q. How do you ensure compliance with these inclusion goals?

Registered apprenticeships are tracked through a national database. We require monthly reports from our grantees. The staff in the contracting unit validate the level of service.

Looking Ahead

Q. What strategies should be pursued to encourage more New Jerseyans to consider a career in the highway construction industry? Who should be leading or involved in those efforts?

Implementation of awareness campaigns, job fairs, rapid interviews, and events to learn about these careers can be effective. If NJDOT has openings, they can let NJDOL know. We can then reach out to the local One-Stops to request they send out an email blast statewide or to a particular geographic region alerting folks of these DOT job opportunities. We have done this for our grantees. If NJDOT has job openings, they can also advertise through the One-Stop Centers, and share eligibility requirements.

NJDOT should also engage in conversations with the contractors who are seeking workers for NJDOT contracts. The state has leverage in the contract requirements when contractors receive state dollars. Under a new law, which has been in effect the last two years, every contractor that has a public works certification, must participate in a registered apprenticeship program. In their procurement language, NJDOT can require the contractor to train their workers, or develop apprenticeships to pipeline people in, or partner with their local One-Stops, or include a local hire provision. Including these requirements can drive positive behavior among employers that can help to diversify the workforce.

Q. Through their on-the-job training and supportive services program, NJDOT is exploring ways to work with contractors, contracting associations, and unions on shaping their future workforces, by focusing on training and recruitment programs aimed at women, minorities, and others. Do you have any thoughts about how NJDOT might pursue this goal?  How could NJDOT partner more closely with your Office?

We had productive conversations with NJDOT when I came on the job, and I discussed our apprenticeship grants with them. NJ BUILD was not in my purview at the time. Our NJ BUILD programs are tailor-made for NJDOT. Philosophically, our two departments are aligned in wanting to accomplish the goal of having a more diverse workforce. NJDOT should definitely consider applying for some of our available grants as they are eligible to do so and we can cover some of the operational costs associated with the grants in some cases, including staffing costs. There’s a lot of opportunity there and it could be a win-win for NJDOT.

"Our programs are tailor-made for NJDOT. Philosophically, our two departments are aligned in wanting to accomplish the goal of having a more diverse workforce."

My team and I love to get in front of groups of NJ employers to discuss our grant opportunities. We have lots of mutual goals for increasing successful job recruitment and the diversity of the labor supply, none of which can occur without conversations with the employers. I’d be happy to spend time discussing NJ BUILD opportunities with construction companies that are already contributing to the state through the public works contract fee and with NJDOT, to share how our Office can support the training and upscaling of their workforce.

 


Resources

Federal Highway Administration, Every Day Counts Round 6, Strategic Workforce Development. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_6/strategic_workforce_development.cfm

Hudson County Community College, Workforce Development. https://www.hccc.edu/programs-courses/workforce-development/index.html

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 825. Earn and Learn Program. http://www.iuoe825.org/

NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, NJ PLACE 2.0 Grants. https://www.nj.gov/labor/lwdhome/press/2020/20200131_njplace.shtml

NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Office of Apprenticeships. https://www.nj.gov/labor/career-services/apprenticeship/

NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development, NJ Builders Utilization for Labor Diversity (NJBUILD),  Women and Minority Groups in Construction Trades.  Notice of Grant Opportunity, Fiscal Year 2022