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State, partners invest millions in Delaware Pathways program

Katie Tabeling

St. George’s Technical High School senior Imani Wulff Cochrane spoke about her experiences through the Delaware Pathways program. She is looking to graduate with two certificates in early childhood education this May. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GOVENOR’S OFFICE

WILMINGTON — St. George’s Technical High School senior Imani Wulff Cochrane knows the difference between learning theory and practical education.

Along with her fellow classmates in the Teacher Academy for Early Childhood Education, she teaches a class of about a dozen 3- and 4-year-olds in the St. George’s Preschool Program. A normal school day is split between academic courses and focusing on skills to gain certificates in early childhood education.

“It’s one thing to sit in circle time, plan your lesson and think it’s going to go great, but then have a student throw a tantrum. Trust me, it happens,” Cochrane told an auditorium filled with state and business leaders Tuesday afternoon. “Rather than scare me or turn me away [from early childhood education], it solidifies my passion to become an educator.”

Cochrane is one of 23,000 students in Delaware’s Pathways program, which prepares high schoolers for post-graduation careers, but Gov. John Carney has allocated millions in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to accelerate the Pathways Program and expand other workforce training initiatives in the state.

The announcement was heralded at a press conference at the Delaware Technical Community College Wilmington Campus, with students at McKean High School in health care vocational training programs on hand.

Delaware and private partners combined to invest $15.8 million in expanding Delaware Pathways to reach roughly 80% of students statewide. Delaware will allocate $8.3 million from ARPA funds, while the remaining $7.5 million was funded by partners like Bloomberg Philanthropies, Walton Family Foundation, American Student Assistance, JPMorgan Chase, the Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee and others.

Gov. John Carney thanked state, federal and business leaders for their strong support in the Delaware Pathways program. The state will invest $8.3 million in growing the program. | PHOTO COURTESY THE GOVENOR’S OFFICE

“The most important thing for a Delawarean is to have a job, to be able to support their family, to be able to have a positive impact on their community. If we don’t have successful businesses, we don’t have jobs for the people who need them,” Carney said while standing on Del Tech’s auditorium stage. 

“If you look nationally, there are 8.4 million people out of work and there are 10 million jobs that are open,” the governor added. “There’s a disconnect with the labor force and the skills needed, and this announcement is critically important for the success of our individuals and ultimately for the success of our state.”

The Delaware Pathways program was born in 2015, as part of a state initiative to revolutionize education for a workforce of a changing economy. As Delaware employers need change, many people’s skills did not line up with the qualifications of the job. The program combines traditional academic education with vocational learning in key career sectors, such as IT, finance, engineering, health care, and more.

When the program first started it had just a handful of students, but today it is in 89 schools. But with the ARPA money, it can be expanded into Delaware middle schools and reach 6,000 additional students. In total, the program will be able to reach 32,000 students.

Carney and other officials also announced other allocations to workforce development programs in continued efforts to retrain and upskill the Delaware workforce. Another $1.5 million will be spent on Delaware Department of Labor workforce programs, although this would be specifically targeted to skills needed for the health care, logistics and transportation sectors.

Another $1.2 million will be allocated to expanding the Delaware Department of Transportation Workforce Development Academy, specifically looking at adding more women, minorities and disadvantaged Delawareans to the highway construction industry.

Finally, the state will also add another $1 million to restaurant and hotel training initiatives. The hospitality sector had been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with a rollercoaster of restrictions, it has taken the longest to bounce back. The Delaware Restaurant Association reports about 5,000 open positions in restaurants around the state.

Delaware Labor Secretary Karryl Hubbard pointed out the critical need for public and private partners to continue to reinvest in the workforce. In the first months of the pandemic, she noted that 75% of people who lost their jobs had a 12th grade education or less. Through Forward Delaware, the first retraining initiative announced during the pandemic which used $16 million of federal CARES Act stimulus funds, around 4,000 Delawareans underwent training for high-demand sectors.

“This will continue that work… Successful workforce development efforts can change the economic trajectory of low income and less educated workers by providing economic mobility,” Hubbard said. “With this additional funding we can leverage lessons learned, target emerging training needs and continue to reskill and upskill Delawareans to meet the needs of employers.”

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