TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers are barreling ahead with a number of measures aimed at giving young workers and students a head start on a solid career.

Pieces of legislation advanced so far this month — part of a much bigger package of bills tackling the issue — would help develop and expand apprenticeship programs in the Garden State.

"Apprenticeships provide tremendous opportunity for people," Demelza Baer, of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, told a panel of legislators. "When someone enters an apprenticeship program, their lifetime income increases by over $300,000."

Baer, who suggested apprenticeship opportunities are not as open to minorities, women and individuals with disabilities, was speaking in favor of three bills that would later be unanimously passed by the Senate Labor Committee.

The bills provide corporate business tax and gross income tax credits for businesses that participate in Department of Labor-registered apprenticeship programs; provide tuition fee waivers for apprenticeship courses for individuals below a specific income threshold; and establish a youth apprenticeship pilot program.

A 10-bill package on the topic was recently introduced by a trio of Democratic lawmakers.

"Establishing more accessible pathways to apprenticeships in New Jersey would expand opportunities to residents throughout the state, especially the most underrepresented populations in high-demand industries," said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, a lead sponsor of the package. "Our mission is to create an innovative way to bring industry and our communities together. By doing so, we are opening windows of opportunity to individuals who historically have not had the means or access to these industries."

According to Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience Store and Automotive Association, similar to other industries, theirs is struggling for highly-qualified workers.

"If you want qualified people working on your car, then we need to get qualified people into training, and an apprenticeship program is the way to do it," Risalvato said.

An Assembly committee on Thursday approved a measure that would require the state develop guidelines to encourage high school students to participate in apprenticeship training.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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