Forward Delaware – Training for Delawareans
Massive retraining effort graduated thousands, may hold lessons for future.
Faced with staggering workforce disruptions as a result of the COVID pandemic, the State of Delaware mounted a massive retraining effort in late 2020 that is now bearing fruit.
The program, Forward Delaware, was launched to offer free training for thousands of Delaware workers displaced by the pandemic. It is fueled with $10 million from the federal CARES Act funds, one piece of the millions allocated to the state to offset the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that our ability to rebound and get Delaware working again will partly rely on our ability to provide training for individuals that need it and meet those jobs in high demand,” Gov. John Carney said when he first announced the program last fall.
As of June, just under 12,000 trainees— maybe more, as the data is slow to update — have graduated or are wrapping up their Forward Delaware programs right now. These programs were provided by organizations such as Code Differently, Tech Impact, Zip Code Wilmington, the Delaware Restaurant Association, Delaware Technical Community College, New Castle County Vocational Technical School District, POLYTECH Adult Education Division and the American Driver Training Academy.
The training providers involved in Forward Delaware had many success stories under their belt even before Forward Delaware launched. One of those is Mubarak Onaneye, 21, who did not have a career in mind before he started training, but did have an interest in technology and computers. While working at 5 Below in Christiana, he decided to explore opportunities out there in the tech sector.
“A job wasn’t something I thought of when I was growing up. At one point,I wanted to be a dental hygienist, but once I realized the training needed for that, that was off,” says Onaneye. “But my sister knew I was into tech stuff, so she recommended Tech Impact.”
He was in one of the last in-person classes that Tech Impact, a nonprofit focused on IT support training and certification programs, held before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. All of his classes went remote, and while Onaneye finds online learning hard, he graduated from the IT Works program. He now works at Tech Impact’s Community Help Desk to provide IT support to students, teachers and parents in the Indian River and Capital School Districts. The Tech Impact Community Help Desk, which is funded through Forward Delaware, has extended its contract with the school districts until the end of August.
Forward Delaware also supported the Fall 2020 cohort of Tech Impact’s ITWorks training program, which graduated 12 students last December. Eighty percent of graduates have secured jobs in IT since graduation.
“Through Forward Delaware funding, in partnership with the DelawareDepartment of Labor and regional IT training providers, Tech Impact supported over 260 individuals through free IT training programs in software development, IT support, IT project management, network administration and other in-demand IT career pathways,” says Tech Impact Executive Director Patrick Callihan. “We continue to provide job preparation and job placement assistance to the graduates, and are seeing excellent employment outcomes to date. We look forward to highlighting our final outcomes and many success stories in the months to come.”
Workforce Development the Delaware Way
When the governor signed the order creating Forward Delaware, the Delaware Workforce Development Board (DWDB) was ready to spring into action. Bill Potter, the board’s executive director, and his team held marathon calls with trainers and businesses to figure out a solution.
In normal times, the DWDB uses annual federal funding to either buy a cohort of seats for training or on a seat-by-seat basis from secondary education institutes like Delaware Technical Community College or private sector providers like the American Driver Training Academy.
But under Forward Delaware, those trainers with a solid reputation and who trained skills for in-demand sectors were able to add more room to classes.
“The Delaware Way works, because how else were we able to get something like this done so quickly?” Potter says. “We were able to call up people leading these statewide organizations, get a sense of what they need and pull a rough plan together in 45 minutes.”
In the last nine months, Potter say she’s spoken with a woman who used to run a party boat in Sussex County, who finished training to be a medical assistant, and a retail clerk who now brings in more money as a truck driver. There’s hundreds more that are living “happy ever after” the pandemic upended normal business, as he put it.
Much of Forward Delaware was shaped by reports and data trends from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as well as Delaware Labor reports on what industries were shedding jobs last year. But looking to the future, the DWDB may consider looking more closely at the state’s trade associations to understand what skills each sector needs.
“We need to go beyond what the data is telling us and start taking qualitative examples. What I’m starting to realize is that some of the Labor reports we’re localizing are years behind, and [the labor market] hates disruptions like what we saw last year,” Potter says. “If we start having these conversations now, we can be ahead of the curve.”
As of June, it’s not clear whether Forward Delaware will continue into 2022, as the program is contingent on one-shot funding from the federal government. The state may use its own funding to keep the project going, but no decisions have been made yet.
But at DWDB, Potter is confident that the lessons from Forward Delaware will continue well into the future and shape the state’s job market.
“There’s something about leveraging these relationships — board members, trainers, people in education and business — that I think will substantially change the way we do business in the future,” he says.
Businesses looking to hire from the forward Delaware cohort or applicants looking to enroll should visit labor.delaware.gov/forward-delaware. If you’re interested in getting involved with the project and working with the Delaware workforce development board to shape the skillset for the next generation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.