by Terry Rogers
The United States is currently dealing with a shortage in skilled labor as many schools across the country promote college education over learning a trade. Delaware Technical and Community College is working to address this shortage in the workforce by promoting their technical training programs.
“We offer many different programs,” Paul Morris, Associate Vice-President for Workforce Development and Community Development, said. “People can choose from construction-related programs, many of which focus on highway construction, including heavy equipment, as well as other types of construction, including plumbing, electrical, a few masonry, some carpentry. The construction-oriented programs are not apprenticeship programs which means they may get trained in multiple areas.”
DTCC also offers HVAC certification programs that allow individuals to be trained in both heat and air conditioning installation, repair and maintenance. There is a welding program that offers certification and students may also become nationally certified if they meet certain criteria. The college also works with DNREC to create programs dealing with wastewater. Last year, DTCC created a diesel mechanic program that will eventually lead to certification. The program is open to people who are already mechanics but need training in working on diesel engines, a career field with a significant shortage of qualified applicants.
“There is an environmental training center at our Owens campus that does a lot of training in wastewater,” Morris said. “We work closely with DNREC because these certifications are very specific. We also offer programs in the manufacturing industry such as logistics, production, hydraulics, thematics, electrical, industrial maintenance and more. We have many different OSHA certifications available and we also offer commercial transportation which includes CDL training.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been difficult to provide students with the necessary skill for certification, Morris explained. During the pandemic, the college has been using a hybrid version for the programs.
“It is hard to teach someone to weld through Zoom,” Morris said. “What we have been doing is the lecture in Zoom and then bringing students into the school in small groups so they get the hands-on experience they need. We are seeing lower enrollment right now because many people have chosen not to enter those fields due to the pandemic.”
The programs range from 150 to 600 hours in length with some only taking a few hours to earn certification. The forklift program, for example, takes only five hours, and some of the OSHA certifications can be completed in as little as 10 hours.
“Someone could become certified in just a few months and start working,” Morris said. “We have received grants for healthcare programs while Polytech and Sussex Tech have also received grants. They are partnering with us to offer certifications in transportation and construction with a goal to get people who are now unemployed due to the pandemic back into the workforce. Our typical student is male between the ages of 25 and 45. We have seen an increase in female enrollment, however.”
Wilson explained that healthcare is growing in Sussex and Kent County to the point the college is renovating a space in Dover called the Terry Campus Healthcare Center of Wellness. This center will offer a lot of short-term healthcare programs, including certified nursing assistant, phlebotomy, patient care technician, dental assistant, pharmacy tech as well as chemotherapy and dialysis.
“The rate of individuals needing dialysis has increased,” Morris said. “A lot of that is home dialysis so our program is geared toward working in someone’s home. We also offer community and home health programs. The typical healthcare program is three to five months long but offers a lot of opportunities.”
One of the obstacles faced in many of the trades is that an apprenticeship is required in order to become licensed. Because apprenticeships are limited and connected to unions, there is not as strong a tie to these programs in high schools. DTCC is working to create pathways that will include a pre-apprenticeship in order to create a pipeline for individuals to find another way into a career.
“In Delaware, we have what are called pathways,” Morris said. “We created programs in high schools that connect to post-secondary opportunities outside of college. These are programs for blue collar technical jobs. They offer workplace learning that provides work experience while in high school. We have found that students who do not go to college often have difficulty finding a job at a sustaining wage when they first leave high school. The pathways we have created offer an on-ramp to opportunities in a trade, connecting an employer with the employees they need and providing people with a potential career.”
The cost for the programs varies and may range from $700 to $4,000. Because they are not considered part- or full-time studies, there is no federal financial aid available. However, DTCC works with the Department of Labor who may offer vouchers for the programs and there are scholarship programs available for those who can show need. Anyone interested in signing up for trade programs at DTCC can visit their website or give them a call. They can also access the virtual student support center if they need assistance signing up.