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Job-focused curriculum gets Delawareans to work

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From middle school years to post-secondary education and career credentialing, Delaware’s education curriculum is now more career-focused than ever — and it’s all helping to create a better-prepared workforce and stronger economy.

According to Luke Rhine, Associate Secretary of Workforce Support with the Delaware Department of Education, college and career-ready programming in middle grades, along with a high school curriculum centered on the state’s Delaware Pathways strategy, prepare tomorrow’s workers to pick and prepare for fulfilling careers. Students get a chance to determine what kind of post-secondary path is right for them — both in terms of the type of career they hope to pursue, and whether a two- or four-year degree or credential program is the right move.

“Young people are translating their skills into data science,” said Rhine, who is amazed by what students are doing with their ability to code or automate or use drones to collect data for agriculture or construction. “They’re asking themselves what they want to become, and what steps they need to take to get there.”

Career pathways lead to diverse opportunities
While people often think about career and technical education in terms of trade skills or human services such as carpentry or cosmetology, the state now supports an even more diverse scope of industries and occupations from a college and career-ready standpoint. Today, more than 70% of Delaware high school students are enrolled in one of the state’s 12 career pathways, which range from agriscience to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

Delaware is also seeing a greater than 50% rise in the number of students who demonstrate college and career-readiness by completing advance placement college coursework, or who choose to “upskill” through paid youth apprenticeship programs.

“These are young people who have college credit, who have credentials, who have work experiences in the industry that they want to move into,” Rhine said. “Their experiences help to shape who they are and accelerate their trajectory and network. It’s a great way in which we can help to meet the future needs of Delaware employers at scale and across the state.”

Career pathways are for adult workers, too
Delaware’s strategy to prepare the workforce of tomorrow doesn’t stop with high school graduation. The adult career pathway includes post-secondary education, support of the state’s Registered Apprenticeship system, and an increased focus around the pursuit of higher-level credentials to help adults move as quickly as possible through higher education to pursue gainful employment.

“The last 18 months have caused adults to reflect on whether they’re on the right trajectory, if they have the relationship with their employer that they want,” said Rhine. “I think you’re going to see increases in experiential learning or residency-type models in higher education, because people want to know what’s on the other end of that training program,” he said.

Delaware: Where education and employers meet
Driving Delaware’s strategy for training both established and next-generation workers is strong collaboration among the Department of Education, the state’s three technical school districts and Delaware Technical Community College. Groups such as the Associated Builders and Contractors, Delaware Contractors Association, the Delaware Restaurant Association and Tech Impact are key to helping inform decisions regarding Delaware’s curriculum and training platform. Wilmington University also plays a key role in their accreditation and upskilling programs.

“All of our initiatives are essentially employer-driven, and we work with K-12 and post-secondary institutions to think differently around how we structure relationships,” said Rhine. “That helps us recruit people who see themselves in Delaware and as part of our community.”

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