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VIEWPOINT: Delaware’s workforce development plan needs more work

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Of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed by President Joe Biden on March 11, Delaware received $925 million to invest in one-time projects. One of the three largest projects in Delaware is a $50 million investment in workforce development with a focus on job training.

Kathleen Rutherford | PHOTO COURTESY OF A BETTER DELAWARE

While investing in jobs training seems like a noble and smart one, it leaves many questions unanswered. The primary issue with Delaware’s workforce development plan is that there is no information about how the money will be spent. Gov. John Carney stated the allocations “focused on investments that will build on the strengths of Delaware’s world-class workforce and support Delaware families and businesses who were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. These workforce development programs will help Delawareans develop the skills they need to succeed in a 21st century economy.”

The goals Carney provides of “building on strengths” and “developing skills” are ones that cannot be measured, and we don’t know what time frame it should be measured over, as neither program has a specified end date.

The jobs training program will be broken into two primary components – the expansion of the Pathways Program and Forward Delaware. The Pathways Program focuses exclusively on students and is receiving one-third of this allotment – an investment in Delaware’s future that does not help the approximately 26,000 unemployed adults who are struggling to pay their bills right now. 

Pathways began in 2015 serving about 20,000 high school students and with this funding will grow to serving 32,000 middle through high school students. An additional $8.3 million will be added to the program through the state budget.

Forward Delaware was founded in August 2020 and is managed by the Delaware Department of Labor. It provides 20-week certification courses (directed toward those who became unemployed due to the pandemic) in the fields of health care, construction/trades, hospitality/food service, logistics and transportation, and computers/IT. In its first year, about 3,000 Delawareans took advantage of its offerings but only 1,476 – less than 50% – completed a training course. The initial investment in the program was more than $15 million. The certifications that can be acquired through Forward Delaware will make workers eligible for higher-paying, more specialized professions, but it’s a large investment few individuals have used and the Delaware Prosperity Partnership openly admits it has not tracked hiring details, and simply reports that “the fact that Forward Delaware exists is a good thing.” 

A lack of alignment between workforce development and the training itself are one of the five major pitfalls of workforce development success – and the above statement proves it’s at least one of the reasons this initiative in Delaware is likely to fail.

A Workforce Innovation and Opportunity analysis has evaluated Delaware’s workforce development programs and noted one of its top weaknesses as providing skills and training for professions that may not lead to self-sufficiency.

According to the Education Commission of the States, Delaware does not have a policy or process in place to identify high-demand occupations. Without any data to support which industries need skilled workers, Forward Delaware may be missing out on training workers for areas employers need the most – and those that may produce the best outcomes for trainees. 

Several other states have dedicated workforce training programs that put Delaware to shame. South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce utilizes several different programs that give individuals the choice to find a specific program that works well for them. With so many different options, there are ample opportunities to get individuals back into the labor force once they have been properly trained. On the other side of the spectrum, there is Georgia QuickStart. This company has a single training program that can provide customized job training, which makes it easier to implement on a statewide level. The program receives 44% of its funding from the state and has managed to create over 1 million jobs since its founding in 1967

In a more recent report, Delaware was ranked seventh out of eight states  in the Mid-Atlantic region in the 2021 Regional Workforce Development Rankings – showing it’s one of the worst at providing a strong workforce development ecosystem. With a new failing job training program, it doesn’t seem like Delaware’s on track to move up the ladder.

Delaware must move from a patchwork of semi-connected programs and services to building out the components of an integrated ecosystem which includes statistical evidence to support investments its workforce system and analysis of workforce training effectiveness, and outcomes. Only then will Delaware improve its standing in business competitiveness and economic growth.

Kathleen Rutherford serves as executive director of A Better Delaware.

Correction: This column originally reported that the Delaware Prosperity Partnership managed the Forward Delaware job-training program, but that is incorrect. The Delaware Department of Labor oversees the program.

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1 Comment

  1. avatar
    William Potter November 23, 2021

    This piece is full of erroneous information.
    As the editor’s note stated, the Delaware Public Partnerships (DPP) does not manage Forward Delaware. This should be the first warning. There are other problems throughout.
    Contrary to the authors assertion, Delaware absolutely has a Demand Occupation List. It is updated annually and approved by the Delaware Workforce Development Board (DWDB). The Demand Occupation List informs the creation of the Eligible Training Provider (ETPL) (The First State has one of those too).
    The Demand Occupation List and the Eligible Training Provider List inform Delaware’s Funding Guidelines (yes we have those too) the annual policy statement from the DWDB governing training priorities and the application of resources.
    The piece also implies Delaware does not have a list of programs leading to credentials. It does and they do.
    I would suggest the author of this piece, complete his/her research before opining further. I’d suggest Delaware’s last annual report at 2020 Annual Report for PY19.pdf (delaware.gov) which discuss in detail the origins of the Forward Delaware and Delaware’s State plan at Delaware PYs 2020-2023 | WIOA State Plan Portal (ed.gov) to be better informed.

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