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How to Change Careers: Training Programs Provide Crucial Help

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Delaware has plenty of growing sectors in need of talent, but how can you get the skills for those jobs? The answer lies in a diverse landscape of trade schools and other college alternatives. These programs are designed to launch students directly into new careers, and the schools involved don’t just provide technical know-how — they also offer built-in access to networks of employers who have hired their graduates in the past and plan to do so again in the future.

There’s Work in the Trades
Mark Wilson, supervisor of apprenticeship and technical training programs at the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District’s Adult Education Division, says the jobs market is crying out for new talent. “There is a dire need for highly trained workers in the skilled trades,” Wilson explains. “We currently have apprenticeship and technical training programs in 26 fields, which range from the construction trades to health care.

All of the occupations are experiencing an almost unprecedented need for new employees and offer an opportunity for students to enter the workforce earning a living wage while having ample opportunities for career advancement.”

In the 2021-2022 school year, the Adult Education Division had 1,239 students enrolled in its apprenticeship and technical training programs. “We have experienced a steady increase in student enrollment throughout the past decade,” Wilson says, “and anticipate the trend to continue well into the future due to the continued growth of Delaware’s economy and number of new professionals that will be needed to fill the vacant roles left by retiring baby boomers.”

Training is provided at multiple locations, including the Delaware Skills Center in New Castle and the James H. Groves Adult High School in Wilmington. Graduates leaving these programs tend to fare well in landing jobs, and, according to the school district’s enrollment statistics, the vast majority are already working in their chosen field before they graduate. And, many of the students use the classes and certifications offered there to further existing careers.

“More than two-thirds of our students are State of Delaware Registered Apprentices, which means they have an employer who is sponsoring them through the multi-year apprenticeship program,” Wilson explains. “Most of the remaining students enrolled in our construction trades programs are already employed in their field of study, but are lacking an employer sponsor. A small percentage of our students are unemployed or underemployed and are using our programs to acquire the knowledge and experience needed to obtain a career in their field of study. Most of our unemployed or underemployed students become employed within their field of study within the first few months of class.”

Coders Needed
One of the most in-demand skills for job changers is coding. Since being founded in 2015, Zip Code Wilmington has had more than 500 graduates, with starting salaries averaging around $79,000. The average salary increase per student, compared to what they earned before attending the program, is over $50,000. They come into the program as warehouse workers, social workers, grocery store clerks; when they leave, they go to work at JPMorgan Chase, M&T Bank, Wilmington Trust, BlackRock, CSC and Diamond Technologies, among others.

“Overall, we have placed graduates with over 70 companies during our seven years of operation,” says Desa Burton, Zip Code’s executive director. Lauded nationally as a top nonprofit coding boot camp, Zip Code graduates about 100 students a year with specialties in software development, data engineering and Java programming.

“Software developers and data engineers are in really high demand right now,” Burton explains. “Our graduates are quickly finding jobs with incredible starting salaries within one to three months of graduation, which is really a wonderful outcome for them. One way that we are reacting to this increased and heightened need for talent is by offering more full scholarships and stipends for incoming students and VET TEC scholarships for veterans. We know that the pandemic and inflation have greatly impacted so many people. Being able to offer this financial assistance really makes a difference and gives our students an opportunity to transition into a high-demand career that benefits themselves and our entire community.”

In addition to its main programs, Zip Code also offers coding training for young people through its B1ue N0te Front-end Youth Software Training Program for high school juniors and seniors. About 400 Delaware students have already completed the program, and Zip Code has plans to expand it in the coming school year.

Opening Doors Into It
Tech Hire Delaware, part of a larger national nonprofit called Tech Impact, is also working to fill needs in the IT jobs market. “We prepare and engage underemployed individuals, people of color, veterans, citizens reentering the workforce as ex-offenders, and women for in-demand job opportunities in the IT industry,” says Tech Impact CEO Patrick Callihan. “There is high demand for skilled technology professionals, with the most in-demand industries being in software development, data management analytics, cloud networking, cybersecurity and technical support. Also, there’s a demand among financial tech firms for proficiency in .NET and Java programming, because those are the languages financial institutions need for processing large transactions.”

Tech Impact

Tech Hire steers students to a variety of training programs, including ITWorks Tech Accelerator, Tech Elevator Coding Bootcamp, Code Differently, The Precisionists and others through Delaware State University, Delaware Technical and Community College, the University of Delaware, Wilmington University and CompTIA. Over the next few years, the organization plans to place more than 500 students in IT training in Delaware.

“The main purpose of Tech Hire is to grow the tech industry by building more and better ways to create more jobs,” says Callihan. “Tech Impact developed Tech Hire Delaware as a strategy to reach more underrepresented talent and prepare them for careers in technology.”


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