State will ensure students have access to computer science classes, including ones focused on coding and artificial intelligence.

Faced with a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers, the state of New Jersey is taking steps to address the issue and prepare more students to enter the booming field. 

Gov. Phil Murphy announced a plan this month to expand access to computer science classes for all public school students, while the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced the expansion of its Career Accelerator Internship Program, which helps students enter the STEM industries. 

Murphy’s Computer Science for All State Plan would create statewide standards and ensure students from kindergarten through 12th grade have access to computer science classes, including ones focused on coding and artificial intelligence. 

The proposal also would provide $2 million in state grants to help schools implement high-quality computer science programs, establish teacher licensure standards, make sure educators have the proper training, and create a pipeline to increase the number of computer science teachers. 

“Expanding and improving computer science programs in our public schools will help provide our students with the critical thinking skills they need to succeed in today’s global economy,” the Democrat said while announcing the plan on Nov. 4 at Bridgewater-Raritan High School in Bridgewater Township. “Computers and technology are integral to our society and workforce, and students must be given the opportunity to learn and master these foundational skills.”

Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), who campaigned in 2018 on providing greater support for STEM education, was among those who attended the grand opening.

Last night was the grand opening of the Delran Township Digital Innovation and Fabrication Laboratory. This partnership…

Posted by Congressman Andy Kim on Friday, November 22, 2019

Kim spoke about the value of a strong STEM education, sharing a story about how his father obtained a doctorate in genetics after battling polio, experiencing homelessness, and living in an orphanage during his childhood in South Korea.

The Cherry Hill native later took to Twitter to discuss his visit. 

“Kicking off the grand opening of the Delran Digital Innovation and Fabrication Lab last night is just an incredible reminder that the STEM leaders of the future are right here in New Jersey,” Kim wrote

The number of STEM jobs has surged over the last 25 years, but the supply of workers hasn’t always kept pace. More than 500,000 computing jobs remain unfilled in the United States, including 15,000 in New Jersey, according to the Computer Science for All State Plan. Even though those jobs offer an average salary of $107,260 in New Jersey, there were only 1,642 students at state universities who graduated with computer science degrees in 2017.

“We must close the gap that sees us unable to fill the growing number of jobs that require a firm grasp of STEM concepts and computer science skills,” Murphy said

The Computer Science for All State Plan was drafted with input from a Computer Science Advisory Board that included educators in the computer science and STEM sectors, leaders in higher education, school administrators, and other stakeholders.

Joining Murphy in his efforts to improve the state’s STEM workforce is the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which is expanding its Career Accelerator Internship Program.

The internship program offers financial assistance to STEM workers and opens up opportunities to careers in many of New Jersey’s key industries by increasing incentives to businesses to hire more interns.

The program, which Gov. Murphy created in May 2018, focuses on first-time interns in high school or college who have received internship offers in STEM fields such as IT/software, health care, and energy. Employers who participate are eligible to be reimbursed up to 50 percent of wages paid to new interns, up to a maximum of $3,000 per student.

In addition to state-level efforts, local high schools are also taking matters into their own hands. Delran High School recently held a grand opening for its new $1.8 million STEM fabrication laboratory and subsequently announced plans to spend $609,000 to expand the lab and add a new wood shop. 

The Burlington County Times reported that the lab includes a 26-station digital design studio, 3-D printers, paper and vinyl cutters, a heat press, a sublimation printer and large format banner printer, an electronics and soldering station, a shaper tool, and laser cutters. 

School officials said the lab will prepare students for STEM careers and create more employment opportunities and pathways for women and minorities in a field that is notoriously dominated by men.