The New Jersey unemployment rate is now at its lowest point in 16 years — 4.1 percent — yet many workers are still struggling to find full-time employment.

Some companies across the Garden State report having problems filling positions that require a specific skill set.

“We continue to have a challenge in the state of New Jersey in filling middle level skilled jobs because we do not have a ready workforce to fill those jobs,” said Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

She said part of the problem is the traditional approach to preparing for the workforce is no longer working for everybody.

“New Jersey, as we know, is a place that has a highly talented work force: we have the most PhDs and engineers per square mile in the nation. But in building that highly skilled work force we’ve kind of forgotten about those middle skilled workers along the way,” she said.

She noted not everybody is equipped to go to a traditional four-year college.

“We need to step back and be honest about placing those students into a pathway into a career that will afford them a job within which they can live, work and play in New Jersey, and those are those middle level skill jobs.”

She said NJBIA is now focused on helping to create pathways for students as they look to prepare for the workforce. Siekerka noted on Monday the Association held a post-secondary task force meeting to discuss the issue.

She says the state offers training for “folks who are displaced later in their career can come back and reassess the right skills they should be working toward, so they can create new opportunities.”

When New Jersey companies can’t find enough home-grown workers with specific skill sets to perform the jobs that need to be filled, “the result could be that they’re recruiting from outside the state of New Jersey, that could either be from institutions outside the state, colleges and other places, or it means HB1 visas.”

And the result is residents of New Jersey looking for a job don’t get one.

“What we’re doing is taking those companies that are challenged today in filling positions and we are introducing them to career and technical education and community college, in order to create certifications programs,” she said.

“So what would happen is the business works directly with the community college, or the career and technical education school, they together write the curriculum.”

After that, students can then take a year program to get a specific skill, and once they complete that program they’re offered a job.

She said the bottom line is “at any age, continuing education is extremely important.”

She said as you progress up the employment ladder of life, “sometimes you’re going to take a horizontal step off that ladder maybe to go back to school and get that next set of skills that you need.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

Sign up for the Newsletter

Get the best of delivered to your inbox every day.