NJ PLACE stands for New Jersey Pathways Leading Apprentices to a College Education. In terms of the choices students make about their lives after high school, this is one of the most exciting new programs to come down the pike—or pathway—in years.
So what exactly is it? NJ PLACE is a program that recognizes apprenticeship training programs as a pathway to college. We're not talking a nod and a handshake here...but recognition through actual college credits. Apprentices and journeyworkers who are learning and working at various trades such as carpentry and ironwork, can now earn college credits toward associate degrees at New Jersey's 19 community colleges. If they so choose, they can go on to earn credits toward bachelor's degrees at participating New Jersey senior colleges and universities.
"By the mere virtue of going through a four- or five-year apprenticeship program for a trade, you come out with credits toward a two-year associates degree," explains Charlie Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, which represents more than 1 million members of labor unions in New Jersey. "As a young man or woman starts out as an electrician, he or she has almost an associates degree by going through the apprenticeship program. Then he or she can continue on and get that degree, or these credits will be accepted by a four-year institution if this person desires to move up to a higher level. In the labor movement, this is one of my proudest achievements. I think this is the future for our industry. It's all about competition and having the most highly trained, educated and skilled workers."
Educators, administrators and trade workers alike understand how incredibly valuable NJ PLACE is to preparing young people for a prosperous future. The program respects apprentices and journeyworkers as college-level learners. What's more, it breaks down the wall that has for so long separated vocational education and academic education.
"NJ PLACE rewards people based on the skills they've acquired," says Henry Plotkin, executive director of the New Jersey State Employment and Training Commission. "NJ PLACE recognizes the academic validity of some of the courses of study that plumbers, electricians and others have taken to get to their current status. The apprenticeship system is the oldest educational system in the world for good reason. People learn by doing. This acknowledges that fact and then rewards people who work very hard for a living and gives them a leg up on getting an academic degree. It also makes the idea of lifelong learning really concrete and easy to access." NJ PLACE shows how apprenticeships are no longer an alternate choice to college, but rather a pathway to a college degree.