Getting Started: Your Options for Career and Technical Education
When Luke Rhine talks about opportunities for students who want to get training in the construction or manufacturing fields, he goes right to the numbers.
“I think it’s important that we talk a little about the data,” says Rhine, director for career and technical education and STEM initiatives for the Delaware Department of Education.
And that data is promising. Rhine says architecture and construction are the third-fastest-growing professions in the state of Delaware – behind health sciences and hospitality/tourism – and both “offer opportunities for people of different skill levels to gain employment and a solid income.”
So what does Rhine mean by “solid income”? He reports that the average salary for someone in architecture or construction is $50,000, among 24,000 Delawareans. The 25,600 state residents who work in manufacturing earn an average of $43,000, says Rhine.
If that sounds like a good start, there are many opportunities throughout Delaware to get degrees, certifications and apprenticeships across different technical-educational options. And thanks to a collection of state programs, including the popular Delaware Pathways, you can access a lot of those options at a reasonable cost, or in some cases, for free.
What may surprise some Delawareans is that while there is a need for people to fill jobs in the manufacturing and construction fields, there aren’t enough candidates.
“It’s a dilemma,” says Dr. Vicki Gehrt, superintendent for the New Castle County Vo-Tech School District. “There aren’t enough young people interested in construction and manufacturing. They seek out other career interests.”
High school programs
There are three different technical high schools in Delaware, all of which are in New Castle County: Howard High School of Technology, Delcastle Technical High School and Hodgson Vocational-Technical High School. They offer several different construction programs for students, including sheet metal, welding and electrical trades to name a few. Students combine traditional academic work with three years of technical instruction to gain a significant advantage when they head directly into the workforce, to technical college or on to other two- or four-year postsecondary programs or apprenticeships.
Gehrt says students in the construction and manufacturing programs at the technical schools take part in co-op opportunities and that after graduation, a large percent of students are offered employment by the companies with which they have been working. Many others go on to either two- or four-year colleges. In addition to providing the classes necessary for a traditional high school diploma, tech-ed schools offer students programs that require 10 credits in a career pathway. That includes an exploratory class in ninth grade and then three credits each for sophomore through senior years. They also will have earned college credits that allow for advanced placement in their career field courses.
When students graduate, they will have qualified as a first year apprentice in their chosen discipline that applies
to an apprenticeship.
“Our administrators and teachers do great work,” Gehrt says. “Our schools are extremely popular, and parents have a strong desire to have their child attend one of our vo-tech high schools.”
But you don’t have to attend a technical high school to get a head start on a career in manufacturing or the building trades. Former Governor Jack Markell started the Delaware Pathways program, a partnership between schools and businesses that allows high school students to “try on” careers by spending time with employers to learn about different professions, gain skills and chart courses that could help them
discover what they will be doing with their futures.
Manufacturing-centric Pathways include Engineering Technology, Logistics Technician and Production Technician. There is also a separate Engineering pathway that is not tied to manufacturing. The Pathways are offered at schools throughout Delaware. For example, the Engineering pathway is available at 11 high schools in all three counties. For more information, see delawarepathways.org
High school juniors and seniors can take advantage of a Delaware Technical Community College
(DTCC) program, says Paul Morris, who is associate vice president for workforce development and community education programs at DTCC. He explains that it costs $600 and provides students with a national certification for manufacturing standards, seven to 13 college credits that will transfer to DTCC, and crucial skills for employment. The college also helps set up paid internships for students in the program between their junior and senior seasons. Those internships give them 200 hours with local manufacturers.
“It’s what students need,” Morris says. “We’re helping them get a basic set of skills that are functional in a manufacturing setting. They learn to troubleshoot the equipment they are using so that they can either identify the problem or fix it themselves. If they become technicians on an assembly line, that’s a good skill set to have. When they start working for a company, they can learn about the product and the process, but they will already have the foundational skills to learn quickly.”
DTCC offers a two-year construction management degree that allows its graduates to go right into the field. And the college is creating a heavy equipment operator program – think backhoes, bulldozers, etc. – that will start in the winter and cost $400. It is also developing a diesel mechanics program. At each DTCC campus, students can enroll in certificate and licensure programs in a variety of fields. These kinds of programs are shorter than regular two- or four-year courses of study, and they focus on specific skills that can help you get job-ready.
If DTCC isn’t a good fit for some reason, there are other ways to get crucial skills for manufacturing or the building trades. For example, Wilmington University offers a “Maker” certificate program that teaches students how to create, prototype, design and manufacture products. The University of Delaware and Delaware State University also have several degree programs that pertain to manufacturing or the building trades. (For more details, see the Resources section on p. 37.)
Apprenticeships and scholarship programs
There are also apprenticeship opportunities available, and employer programs are approved by the state Department of Labor. Those taking part in them earn wages while completing their apprenticeships. Technical schools also offer apprenticeships through their adult education divisions. (Learn more about New Castle County Vo-Tech School District’s apprenticeship programs at www.nccvtadulteducation.com/apprenticeships.) They are financed through state funds and don’t cost apprentices anything.
DTCC is also interested in working with high school students and older Delawareans looking to develop skills to help them find jobs. Thanks to a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s “America’s Promise” initiative, DTCC offers five- to six-month programs for adults in automation and production line skills. High school students can enroll in the Construction Craftsman program to learn the skills needed to join the workforce and move up quickly.
Another government program that is especially helpful is SEED, which stands for Student Excellence Equals Degree. This is a scholarship program that is open to people who graduate from high school with a 2.5 GPA and who apply to DTCC to take part in a four-semester training program. “We promote the SEED program to
our students,” Gehrt says.
SEED can cover the remainder of DTCC tuition after other financial aid is deducted. For priority consideration, apply by April 1.