The Murphy administration is pressing ahead with a new initiative to advance learning in science, technology, engineering and math in order to bolster the state’s innovation economy in the coming years.

During a meeting of the New Jersey STEM Innovation Fellows program at Montclair State University on Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state Department of Education has launched the Expanding Pre-Apprenticeship in a New Direction grant program, or ExPAND.

The DOE will make six $100,000 awards to three vocational and three comprehensive schools spread through North, Central and South Jersey.  Funding for the ExPAND grant program is being provided through federal Perkins Leadership funds.

The money will be used for high schools to create career-training programs that will be designed to help students transition into registered apprenticeship programs after graduation.

“This new program will provide opportunities to high school students to develop STEM and other skills as a first step toward entering an apprenticeship in an innovation driver industry,” Murphy said.

Murphy noted New Jersey has the highest concentration of scientists and engineers per square mile in the world, but moving forward our challenge will be “filling those middle skills, really good-paying, strong supporting-benefits jobs that you can build a career around. That’s where our shortage will be.”

He said by helping young people to develop and excel in science, technology, engineering and math, the state will be put on a course to produce “the highly educated and highly skilled critical thinkers that we will need to make our state an undisputed leader in the STEM fields and the innovation economy.”

Murphy said with this and other programs, we are building a state where opportunities and innovation blossom.

“It’s about creating a workforce that will be a draw for innovative companies. It’s about creating a state that will draw folks from around the world to come to live and work, and where our young people will want to stay.”

Interested high schools must apply to be part of the program by Oct.1.

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