What New Jersey Is Doing to Prepare Students for the Workforce: NJ Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis Discusses the State’s Initiatives for Career Readiness

In the 21st century, the world of work is constantly changing. This podcast series, Reimagining Career Pathways, will explore the needs of the future workforce, rethinking traditional education pathways to connect students today with the in-demand jobs and skills of the future.

This year, the state of New Jersey has made headlines with their tuition-free community college initiative, which will provide additional grants to lower-income students enrolled at specific community colleges. According to New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis, the intention behind the initiative is to level the playing field for community college students across the state.

“Our hope in this is that we kind of cut through [financial barriers] for students and just say, look, you make less than this, you don’t have to pay. Period. No questions asked,” says Smith Ellis. “There’s a lot of other things that you have to worry about, like getting good grades and making sure that you keep up your progress in school. But in terms of the tuition and fees, we don’t want that to be a burden.”

In addition to the community college initiative, the state of New Jersey is making a number of other plans for increasing access to career-centric education.

“The idea of exposing students to college and career options, just things that are beyond their time in school, is something that we’re really supportive of,” says Smith Ellis.

One of the many ways the state of New Jersey is connecting students to careers is through experiential learning programs, like apprenticeships. While the state is interested in the growth of apprenticeships specifically, actually implementing these programs can come with some hurdles.

According to Smith Ellis, “One of the hardest things with apprenticeships sometimes is actually finding the industry partner.”

Yet there is demand for the expansion of apprenticeship programs.

“We have a lot of students who want that kind of experiential learning. And you get paid. Students are already working. So the opportunity to have that work be relevant to what you’re learning and you get paid. It’s just a win-win for everybody.”

So, what is the state of New Jersey doing to increase access to education and better prepare young people for the workforce? Listen in to our interview with Secretary Zakiya Smith Ellis and guest host Kevin Fudge of ASA to find out.

This podcast episode is sponsored by American Student Assistance®. ASA® is a national nonprofit committed to helping kids know themselves, know their options, and make informed choices to achieve their education and career goals. To learn more about ASA, visit asa.org.

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.