By Terry Rogers
On Tuesday, February 21, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford held a Workforce Development Forum designed to allow businesses in Milford connect with education officials. The forum consisted of a panel of representatives from the City of Milford, Department of Labor, Department of Education, Del Tech and Milford School District.
“We decided to hold this forum as a catalyst to conversations regarding how we can connect business, education and the marketplace,” Andy Stevens, Chairman of the CCGM Economic Development Committee, said. “What we keep hearing from business owners is that they would expand their business if they could find the right resume and the right skillset, but that they are having difficulty finding the right employees to fill positions. I’m going to admit that as a father, I am selfish. I don’t want my child going off to California to find work, but kids are leaving this area because they cannot find openings locally. We hope that this forum begins a dialog between the City, the state and educational organizations so that kids get the education they need and are able to find a good paying job in the local area once they are finished with school.”
Eric Norenberg, City Manager, said that there were big things happening in Milford with the new Bayhealth campus, the repurposing of the current Bayhealth campus and the Downtown Development Designation. He said that people want to live and work in Milford which is why the City created a Workforce Development Committee, made up of representatives from business, education and private citizens, in order to address the concerns of businesses who need a well-educated workforce. Mr. Norenberg said that the City had received funding from the Department of Labor that they hoped could be used toward the creation of summer jobs in Milford that could give young people experience in a career field.
“The Department of Labor offers many benefits to both businesses and individuals throughout the state,” Jennifer Jurczak, Business Services Representative for the Department of Labor, said. “We have a job board where we can post and advertise jobs. We provide grants for training that can include payment of the hired person’s salary for up to six months while they are training. We offer assistance for people who need to go back to school and we also arrange for apprenticeship training. The department will even help you set up a job fair if you need to find qualified people to fill positions.”
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Luke Rhine, Director for Career and Technical Services at the Department of Education, said that up to 75 percent of students in Delaware high schools were enrolled in Career Technical Education Programs which includes training in IT, healthcare, construction trades and others designed for the student to begin a career immediately after high school. He said that the belief that it requires a four-year college degree to get ahead today is a myth.
“It is important to let kids know that where you start in a career is not necessarily where you end up,” Mr. Rhine said. “The fact is that experience is just as important as education to most employers. Education may get you the job, but it is experience that will help you advance in that job. Unfortunately, teens are not working in jobs while in high school like they did when I was young. That is due to a combination of parents who would rather their child focus on grades and school activities as well as a lack of jobs for kids who are under the age of 18.”
Ms. Jurczak said that limits on hours that younger people can work and insurance regulations have made it more difficult to find work for teens. People between the ages of 16 and 18 have a much higher unemployment rate which is comparable to people over age 65. Mr. Rhine said that it was important to integrate community organizations, government and education in order to develop localized solutions to help kids find work.
“Each spring and fall, you receive a booklet in the mail with Del Tech’s workforce training programs,” Paul Morris, Assistant Vice President for Workforce Development, said. “These are courses for personal or professional development. We also offer Kids Camps that provide not only fun activities but help them with career development. One program we offer, Delaware Pathways, is designed to connect students with mentors who can help guide them into a career.” There are 12 different pathways in subjects such as health, IT, hospitality, engineering, finance, manufacturing and teaching. School districts, businesses, higher education and national advisory partners work together to prepare students for both college and careers.
Mr. Morris said that there are several industries where jobs are available but that employers claim they are having difficulty finding employees. Many of these are jobs that do not require education after high school, but offer high paying careers. Construction, sales, manufacturing and trades such as plumbing, carpentry and vehicle maintenance report that there is a shortage of qualified staff. Daycare workers are also in shortage currently. There are also healthcare positions that do not require advanced degrees. Businesses also report that students are coming out of school with no life skills, such as understanding how a budget works or how to balance a checkbook.
“Unfortunately, financial skills are often learned when you get that first paycheck,” Mr. Rhine said. “That is when you learn here is what I have, this is what I can do with it. With fewer students working in high school, that skill set is being lost. The state has put more focus on financial literacy, however, so we may see more of that in the future.”
Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent of Milford School District, said that the district is working to improve the courses offered at Milford High School. The district has recently changed wording in the new course catalog so that departments were now “Schools” and pathways were now “Majors,” similar to the way most colleges word their offerings. It is the district’s hope that the change will help students develop a similar mindset as college students.
“We are trying to connect more students with mentors and to create more shadowing programs,” Dr. Dickerson said. “At the Milford Central Academy, we are expanding our Response to Intervention Program in order to create more career preparatory courses. Students are gaining expertise through local organizations like Abbott’s Mill. We are also looking at developing the soft skills of students, not just their career skills. We believe we have done a good job with resume writing, but we realize we may be missing the mark on things like interview skills and the creation of a portfolio.”
Dr. Dickerson said that any employer who had a need for specific types of education should contact Milford School District about the possibility of adding more majors in upcoming years. He said that the district was dedicated to creating young adults with the skill sets necessary not only for the student to succeed, but for local businesses to succeed as well.
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