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Survey: Employers have openings, applicants need training

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A new survey of state employers has found a number have openings, but applicants require more training to meet their needs . | PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIC PROUZET/UNSPLASH

A new survey found that most employers in the state have job openings that don’t require college degrees, but a lack of digital literacy and non-technical skills has prevented many hiring new employees.

The survey by Zogby Analytics is based on responses from 251 employers in the state. Commissioned by the Delaware Workforce Development Board (DWB), an elected and appointed state entity that evaluates and supports job training efforts, it was funded by an allocation from the state’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Among its top-line findings were that four out of five respondents had non-degree-required roles available and that about half said they would hire individuals leaving incarceration. At the same time though, many employers said applicants often lacked back computer literacy skills, including familiarity with Microsoft Word and Excel, or soft skills like self-motivation, communication and problem-solving.

Scott Malfitano. chair of the Delaware Workforce Development Board, said a new survey would help inform its future programs. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The DWB commissioned the survey to “talk to businesses and listen to what their needs were,” said Scott Malfitano, board chair and a senior executive at Wilmington-based business services giant CSC. It plans to put the information into action as it maps out new training programs.

“I think in the past, we as the Workforce Development Board, have really looked at funding workforce programs by certain industries. But now is the time to really focus on who’s hiring and what they need,” he said. “A lot of the findings weren’t surprising, but it validated the thinking.”

With the soft skills’ concerns, Malfitano said they could work with some of their partnered training programs to spend time talking about and practicing some of those skills. They could also add short training sessions to teach some basic computer literacy skills so that employers were receiving applicants ready to get to work.

While the labor market continues to see a national ratio of two job openings for every jobseeker, one avenue that could be fruitful are those justice-involved individuals who are often unemployed or underemployed. The First State has upward of 5,000 inmates and 13,000 probationers at any given time, meaning there are many potential applicants for companies willing to hire.

While construction and agriculture led respondents in willingness to hire from that population, others like utilities, health care and manufacturing had markedly fewer opportunities.

Malfitano noted that it will continue to be an educational process on hiring those justice-involved applicants, though second chance initiatives led by companies like JPMorgan Chase have made meaningful progress.

“It’s overdue. Giving a second chance to these individuals coming out of our corrections system is I think mighty important,” he said.

The state Department of Corrections is a member of the Workforce Development Board, and Malfitano said they have been learning of programs around the country that could be adopted here to help give new certifications and skills to inmates, so they are prepared to re-enter the workforce upon parole.

As a connector between government and businesses, the DWB is tasked with helping the state compete for talent – a particularly difficult task in Delaware since several major metro markets are so close to its borders.

“We have to tell our Delaware story, and we’re going to be working on that with Delaware Prosperity Partnership and others to tell that story and about the opportunity here,” Malfitano said. “But at the same time, we’ve got to look at different programs.”

One potential program would be a groundbreaking connection between industry and higher education. Malfitano would like Delaware to be the first state to launch a Co-Op program for college students, where they could work at a local company for pay while also receiving college credits toward a degree. The DWB is working on certification for the program and has already identified 10 initial businesses that would participate, he said.

“These kids are in Newark or Dover, but they don’t see Wilmington, they don’t see other parts of our state,” he added. “We have to educate them and get them involved while they’re in school here and tell them we want them to work here.”

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