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Last March, Gov. Murphy announced plans for a New Jersey Apprenticeship Network and, following a trip to Germany and Israel last month, launched a $4.5 million apprenticeship grant program supporting the state’s high-demand industries.

He did so because he recognized a marketplace need that New Jersey Institute of Technology also has identified and is addressing —the incredible demand for professionals who possess hands-on experience as well as a solid technical background. 

In 2016, the U.S. had 3 million more available STEM jobs than it had skilled workers to fill them. And the Wall Street Journal has reported there are 1.3 million STEM jobs available each year and only 600,000 new graduates in the STEM fields. That demand has been great for NJIT students, who are realizing an average of nearly three job offers before graduation and starting salaries almost 20 percent above those of their peers at other universities. But it also presents a challenge for the technology-driven industries that are the backbone of our economy.

In recent years, I’ve spent a great deal of time in conversation with industry leaders who have made it clear to me that they need more NJIT graduates for their enterprises, but not just engineers. There is an abundant demand for employees who have a background in manufacturing, fabrication, maintenance, process control, instrumentation and service that enables them to focus on the practical applications of engineered products and processes across an array of industries.

They have a desperate need for employees who can manage, maintain and troubleshoot technological processes and products. I also have traveled to Germany, Ireland, China and several other countries to study the linkage between higher education and business in foreign nations and cultures while learning about best practices.

That’s why NJIT is launching a School of Applied Engineering and Technology, which was unveiled Nov. 9 in the NJIT Makerspace, where students engage in hands-on, project-based learning complemented by training on industrial equipment that provides experience with modern manufacturing technology.

Through this school, we are creating more opportunities for our existing students and future students, both freshmen and transfers, who will benefit from partnership possibilities with community colleges. SAET also will develop new methods and pedagogy for the future of engineering and technical education and the preparation of students for industrial careers.

The school will offer 10 baccalaureate degree programs in engineering technology and be home to a four-year general engineering program. Additionally, Makerspace at NJIT will be a key component of the SAET student experience, as will apprenticeship and cooperative education opportunities for NJIT students. Co-op, internship and apprenticeship assignments will be made in collaboration with industrial and governmental entities in New Jersey and neighboring states, and will use the NJIT Makerspace for training and initiation. Practical work experiences will be required of students in SAET as a principal component of all programs.

NJIT was founded in 1885 by industrialists seeking to educate the workforce needed by businesses throughout the city of Newark, and we’ve never lost sight of our close bond with industry. That has enabled us to seize upon opportunities throughout our university’s history that benefit our students and our economy, such as this new school.

This approach has enabled NJIT to have a remarkable economic impact — $1.74 billion each year — on the state of New Jersey and will enable us to continue growing and producing graduates who are prepared for the careers of what overwhelmingly has become a technology-driven economy.