NEWARK, NJ - Students from several New Jersey county vocational technical schools had firsthand experience with trades professionals through a new partnership with Port Authority New York and New Jersey.

Through a three-year agreement, the Port Authority will provide funding for the establishment of training programs in four of the county vocational-technical schools within the Port District: Essex, Union, Bergen and Middlesex.

On site at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday morning were about 75 students and staff from Bergen County Technical School in Paramus, Essex County’s Donald Payne Technical School in Newark and Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools’ Perth Amboy Tech. 

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The Port Authority aims to build a qualified, diverse workforce and supports various initiatives like the pre-apprenticeship program, which provides necessary training and education to prepare workers for in-demand industry careers.

“As you tour the airport today, everything you see was built by men and women just like you,” Payne said, stressing the importance of the pre-apprenticeship program. “Everything from the cement in the runway, to the metal in the buildings, to the placement of the windows, it needed someone like you to put it there correctly and perfectly.”

“It's a tremendous experience for the students to see some of these mega-construction sites and what’s involved in an infrastructure project,” said Judy Savage, the executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.

Savage said the pre-apprenticeship program kicked off at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, with the trip to Newark Airport on Friday morning marking the first field trip for the program.

“You’re here today because a lot of people want to make an investment in all of you as the future workforce for New Jersey and particularly for the construction industry,” Savage told the students. “We are aligning programs in your schools with expectations of labor unions, contractors, engineers and project managers at Port Authority so you’ll be in a position if you choose to get one of those very coveted union jobs.”

Savage said Port Authority seeks to encourage women to go into construction and engineering, with the pre-apprenticeship program intended to ensure a solid pool of minority candidates in the pipeline for jobs.

“The work that you will be doing is equally important as any other profession out there. All work has dignity,” said Dr. Keith Wright, senior program manager of capacity building at the Port Authority.

Students and teachers then took a short bus trip to the Terminal One construction site.

“It’s amazing,” said Adrianna Maragh, student at Donald Payne School of Technology. “I like to see how they build it and how it all comes together.” Maragh and her classmate, Kiki Reyes, said they are both interested in pursuing carpentry.

Students learned that the 33-gate Terminal One will accommodate about 13.5 million air passengers each year when complete, which is approximately a 50% increase in capacity.

The project is the largest design-build project in the state and 800 workers were estimated to be working on site Friday morning. It is about 40% complete and officials are looking to open portions of Terminal One in October 2021, with a full opening in 2022.

While on site of the Terminal One project, vocational students heard from Conti Construction Project Manager Keith Abt and Project Superintendent Dave Bojczak, who spoke about the importance of safety on the job, showing up to work early, possessing a hard working, positive attitude and working through tough weather conditions. 

“This is a really awesome opportunity Port Authority afforded you guys,” Bojczak said.

Abt said there is nothing more satisfying than having his kids walk by a site and say, ‘my dad built this'.”

As Maragh and her classmates headed back to the airport, John Dolan, the director of Career and Technology Education at Essex County School of Technology, told students, "there are tons and tons of opportunities not only now, but as you move forward through high school. Opportunities are abounding for you and if you have that skill or trade, you’re going to be in excellent shape. You will never be looking for a job, they’ll be looking for you."

"The world is out there for you, you just have to know what’s out there so you can make an informed decision," he said. 

Additional vocational and technical students are expected to visit Newark Airport in early December.