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The First State’s technical community college provides an easy stepping stone to careers.

For adults seeking a fresh career start, a little extra education is often the ticket to success.

In some cases, that “little extra” can take a mere six weeks to obtain, says Paul Morris, associate vice president for workforce development and community education at Delaware Technical Community College.

Delaware Tech has long been known for crafting academic and workforce training programs to meet the needs of the state’s employers. With an ever-expanding course catalog, four strategically located campuses, online learning and broadened availability of financial aid, the college’s programs are easily accessible to any Delaware resident.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made that accessibility even more important, Morris says, because massive layoffs in service industries like hospitality and retail spurred individuals to consider opportunities that felt more like a career than just a job. “My observations are anecdotal,” he admits, “but they want flexibility, they want family time, they want to be in a position to grow.”

Securing some level of postsecondary education is becoming critically important, according to
Paul Herdman, president and CEO of Rodel, the Delaware-based education-centric nonprofit. Only 30% of the nation’s adult population has earned at least a bachelor’s degree and, within five years, just about everyone else will need some training beyond high school in order to earn a self-sustaining wage.

Fortunately, assistance programs available at Delaware Tech are making it easier for career changers to get the training they need to improve their financial prospects.

A big change enacted last year by Delaware’s General Assembly will reduce the worries associated with paying for postsecondary education. The SEED (Student Excellence Equals Degree) Scholarship program, established in 2005, now is available to Delawareans of all ages who want to pursue an academic degree or a workforce training certificate. SEED scholarships provide free tuition for up to five years of courses leading to an associate or bachelor’s degree, diploma, credit certificate or workforce training program at Delaware Tech. Until last year, the scholarship was limited to students directly out of high school enrolled in degree programs only.

Also, students who are unemployed or underemployed may qualify for free tuition for selected classes, primarily in health care and construction areas, through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), administered by the state Department of Labor.

Funds up to $9,000 per person are also available through the state’s Focus on Alternative Skills Training (FAST) initiative and can be applied towards the completion of certain non-degree certificate programs.

Shaping the Candidates Employers Want
A three-year-old unit at Delaware Tech, the Office of Work-Based Learning, is helping to bring employers closer to their prospective new hires, says Bryan Horsey, the office’s director.

“We are employer-facing,” he says, explaining that the office asks employers to identify the skill sets that they need so the college can tweak its programs to ensure that students possess those essential skills before they’re placed in jobs. Also, he says, the office determines how many openings businesses are going to have in specific areas, and then works to make sure an appropriate number of candidates is available when the openings occur.

Many well-paying careers do not require a four-year degree, Morris says, and, depending on the field, Delaware Tech can provide career- launching training. Such training ranges from certificates that can be earned in anywhere from six weeks to nine months to associate degrees, which normally take two years to complete.

The combination of pandemic-related job vacancies and high inflation is making it easier for career switchers to find good jobs after completing training, he says. “Employers are fighting for the same people, and hourly rates are going up for all kinds of positions.”

Plenty of opportunities will continue to open in the construction fields, thanks in part to recent federal legislation to fund infrastructure improvements and support pandemic recovery. “These projects need workers,” Morris says, and certain levels of training are required even for entry- level positions, like serving as a flagger on highway projects or driving heavy equipment.

Stacking Credentials to Grow a Career
Opportunities also continue to grow in health care, and Morris points to Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs)
as a good example. CNAs had been earning $10 to $12 an hour pre- pandemic but are making $17 to $20
an hour now. Openings used to be primarily in long-term-care facilities, but hospitals are now making greater use of CNAs, he says.

Earning CNA credentials takes six weeks at Delaware Tech, and for students, it could be just the first step on a rewarding career ladder.

The reason, Morris says, is “stackability” — placing one credential on top of another. First, become a CNA, then earn a phlebotomy certification while working full time, then take another step up by earning national credentials as a patient care assistant. Each certificate program can lead to a better-paying position, he says.

Stacking credentials to climb the career ladder isn’t limited to health care. Similar opportunities exist in building trades, manufacturing and information technology.

Completing an associate degree program at Delaware Tech can also be a stepping stone to jobs or a four-year degree.

Teresa Pembroke, who graduated in May with a degree in information technology, started working in March as a LAN analyst for the City of Dover, helping make sure the city’s IT systems are working properly, keeping software updated and assisting employees when problems arise. Pembroke, 22, spent two years in a series of jobs — dog bather, babysitter and house cleaner — before enrolling at Delaware Tech six months after the pandemic shut down many businesses in the state.

“I needed time after high school to figure things out, and when I heard about information technology at Delaware Tech, it seemed right up my alley,” Pembroke says. “I’m making more money, I’m more stable,” she says, and enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program is in her plans.

Anastasia Winder, 20, who also graduated in May with a degree in information technology and networking, is working at the college this summer as an IT instructional tutor before starting a bachelor’s degree program at Wilmington University. She plans to become a librarian, a field where technology is ascending in importance over hardcover books.

Studying at Delaware Tech positioned Winder for her tutoring job and gave her strong knowledge of data analytics as well. “I learned different ways to attack a problem,” she says, adding that this ability will help her as she continues her education and settles on a career.

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