A new report finds apprenticeship programs can strengthen the New Jersey economy and provide important economic opportunities for lower wage earners, particularly women, people of color and those with disabilities.

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice's report calls on Garden State lawmakers to introduce a range of incentives to promote apprenticeship programs.

Demelza Baer, the Institute's senior counsel and director of the Economic Mobility Initiative, said many people are working but they’re “unable to afford all of life’s necessities, like rent, food and healthcare. This inequality is worse for people of color and women and it’s reached a really alarming level.”

The report recommends creating tax credits for businesses in New Jersey that provide apprenticeship opportunities.

“Apprenticeship programs cannot solve all of our workforce problems or remedy all of our inequality, but they are a win-win policy solution for people and businesses and our state’s economy," Baer said.

Baer said apprenticeships are also a way to ensure Jersey businesses have a pipeline of seriously trained employees to meet the needs of our growing economy.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver supports the idea of establishing school programs that would help younger students move toward different career choices that could eventually include on-the-job training.

“Often our young people are not aware of what kind of career opportunities can be available to them, and this is an education that cannot start when it’s senior year or junior year in high school," she said.

She pointed out that several counties are expanding opportunities for young people to enter vocational schools “and they have forged collaborations and relationships with organized labor and the trades.”

The report also calls for the state of New Jersey to fund apprenticeship programs for adults in an effort to help those already in the workforce refine and expand their skills.

State Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo believes this makes sense.

“We know that apprenticeships are the great pathway for folks out of poverty into a career path with good pay, good benefits that can improve their lives, their families lives," he said.