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New $10M program to retrain pandemic-affected Delaware workers

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Gov. John Carney signs an executive order Monday to create the Rapid Workforce Training and Redeployment Training Initiative to retrain pandemic-affected workers. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

WILMINGTON – In order to help prepare Delaware workers who have been laid off or are struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has created a new workforce development program to retrain them using federal grant funds.

Gov. John Carney signed an executive order on Monday that creates the Rapid Workforce Training and Redeployment Training Initiative, using $10 million of federal CARES Act monies as initial funding.

The initiative was one of the recommendations made by the Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee that released its interim report Friday. It was also a recommendation made recently by a consultant hired by the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.

The program comes amid the global pandemic that has seen more than 125,000 Delawareans file for unemployment assistance as of mid-July. Nearly 49,000 residents were receiving those benefits as of July 18, even after the state has moved into Phase 2 of its three-tier reopening plan.

“I’m really confident that as we continue to flatten the curve of the spread of the COVID-19 virus in our state, more and more economic activity will occur and more people will go back to work,” Carney said in a press conference announcing the order. “The demand for those workers will increase and so they need to be prepared for those high-demand jobs that will be available in the future and will enable them to support themselves and their families.”

The executive order directs the Delaware Department of Labor to work with the Delaware Workforce Development Board to establish approved training and certification programs for unemployed and underemployed Delawareans. Training programs included in the rapid workforce development initiative will focus on in-demand occupations and skills currently demanded in Delaware workplaces. The order requires the program to begin by the end of 2020, and authorizes it to run until Dec. 31, 2021, unless it’s extended. 

“We recognize that there are a lot of Delawareans anxious to get back to work, but we also recognize they may not be going back to work at the same job they had before, and they may need additional skills,” said Gary Stockbridge, chairman of the Delaware Workforce Development Board (DWDB), in the press conference.

Stockbridge said that the DWDB has been ramping up its preparations for the order, assessing the occupations that should be targeted, finding providers that could offer the necessary training and identifying employers who could hire graduates right away.

“We understand the word ‘rapid’ in the title means we have to get out there and do it quickly,” he said.

Delaware Technical Community College President Mark Brainard said that his institution had available capacity in certification programs for health care, IT, and construction. Del Tech could also expand enrollment in welding, HVAC and advanced manufacturing programs.

The signing of Executive Order No. 43 represents a step forward toward the statewide job retraining program advocated for by the state chamber for the past several years.

“There are a lot of folks who are unfortunately idle right now, and this will hopefully put them into a position where they can go from being idle to their full-time job just getting retrained,” said Mike Quaranta, president of the state chamber, who noted that many of the jobs at risk during the pandemic were at risk beforehand as well due to automation, robotics, outsourcing, and more. “We really do believe that this is a great step forward.”

By Jacob Owens

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