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Broadening Your Talent Pool

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Office of work-based learning provides essential link.

After Delaware began its Pathways initiative in 2015, thousands of state students were getting more exposure to potential trades and careers than ever before.

But many employers weren’t exactly sure how to get involved with the Pathways program, leading to the creation of the Office of Work-Based Learning (OWBL).

“This is Delaware, so many people are just going to pick up the phone and call their local principal,” says Bryan Horsey, the executive director of the office operated by Delaware Technical Community College. “The purpose and intent of this office is to scale that model.”

Delaware Pathways is a program that links high school and community college students with employers seeking skilled workers in order to expose them to career options and prepare them for success.

In the 2020-21 school year, OWBL worked with more than 1,300 students statewide at 20 schools to connect with about 150 different employers. It was the most robust year for its programming since it started, and Horsey’s team was forced to contend with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic during it.

Despite the challenge of reaching students who often weren’t in classrooms last year, OWBL found that the pandemic’s impact actually helped solve one legacy problem in Delaware: transportation. While school districts, especially smaller ones, are often challenged on how to get students to internships, the growth of virtual instruction helped to bridge some of that gap, Horsey says.“

“We had virtual visits to classrooms to talk to students about businesses and organizations, we had individuals mentor a group of students in a given career path, and we even had virtual immersion experiences, where a group of students worked on a project led by an organization,” he explains.

With many employers in need of workers as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Horsey notes that OWBL can help broaden their talent pool.“With virtual resources, a company in New Castle County can now get exposed to students in Sussex County. That didn’t happen before,” he says.

OWBL Offers Many Benefits to Employers
While health care and construction trades continue to be among the Pathways’ most popular programs, Horsey notes that even more unique career interests are supported by the office.

“We get all different types of asks. For example, last year we had one student who was interested in a legal career, and we were able to help that student work with a paralegal in a law firm,” he says.

The benefits of the Pathways program for employers are multi-faceted, including giving young people early exposure to a potential career path, connecting companies with a younger workforce, and even helping train leaders on how to manage the next-generation workforce.

“We also provide [business leaders’] feedback to the teachers,” Horsey says, noting that this could include observations on how interview skills need to be improved or why the focus of instruction needs to change. “It’s this feedback loop of the reality of what a company is going to look for, so that the programming and educational development exactly matches what a Delaware employer needs.”

Employers will be excited to find out how the Pathways program has changed career trajectory for teens from when they were in school in past decades, Horsey says. “This [Pathways] initiative has done monumental work in reforming education to the reality of work demand,” he explains. “When I was a kid, we learned geometry. Now, kids are learning geometry with the insight into applying it to a particular career field, and, by the way, here’s an employer that hires in this career field.”

Conversely, Horsey notes that Pathways also exposes established professionals to the next generation of workers, so that they can learn about what motivates these workers and develop a managerial style that will support their workforce well into the future.

“[Pathways] is borne out of education, but it’s a service of economic development for the state’s employers, he says.

For more information on the OWBL and how to get involved with the pathways program, visit DEOWBL.org.

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