What I’m Doing Now: Four Recent Vo-Tech Grads Report on Their Careers
Vocational-technical high schools are designed to give students a running start for a career in the trades and professions by providing them with special skills and training. Four recent graduates from different Delaware vo-tech schools explain how their training has helped them achieve their current positions on the path to career goals.
Each tells where they are now in their new careers, what they see ahead and what advice they would give students just a few years behind them.
Naseem Matthews: Class Networker to Intern Recruiter
Since he graduated from the Academy of Finance and Technology at Howard High School of Technology three years ago, Naseem Matthews has not journeyed far from its downtown Wilmington campus — just a few miles north to the offices of Hatzel & Buehler on Silverside Road. But his career universe today spans the United States.
“Right now, I’m responsible for recruiting interns for the company, mainly from vo-tech schools at all of our 18 sites across the country,” Matthews says. In fact, he began as an intern at the 138-year-old electrical construction company and is now its community outreach coordinator. That means working to establish programs and recruiting events at branches located in seven states along the East Coast and in the Midwest, partnering with local vo-tech schools.
Matthews began his internship in the company’s Wilmington office — its headquarters are also located here — as a project coordinator, “and I was serving in both capacities for six to seven months until I moved into my current job full-time earlier this year.”
Matthews explains that as a union shop, Hatzel & Buehler doesn’t let interns work in the field, but they can serve within the company’s various departments. Plus, “we do have a prefabrication shop here in Wilmington where interns can work,” he says. A typical prefab operation might be to pre-assemble electrical receptacles before they are sent to the field for the
Was there a key lesson at Howard that prepared him for this early success? “Honestly, it was learning to network,” Matthews says. “My teachers told me it would be very important to succeeding, so I began learning to network while still in school, which put me in the situation to succeed to the extent I have to date.”
In addition to his recruiting and outreach events duties, Matthews is now studying business contract management online with Strayer University. When he receives his degree, he hopes to be able to move up to a managerial position while still in his early 20s.
“If I had to give any advice to students,” Matthews says. “it would be to take hold of the resources that are available to them — whatever they are — and use them to give your career the best shot you can.”
Zachary Wheway: Taking the Fast Track to Security Tech
When Zach Wheway finished his senior year at Sussex Technical High School in 2021, he didn’t skip a beat to his new career.
“Things were a little hectic at school because of COVID, but I was still scheduled three days a week in the work-based learning program as an intern the same place I now work — at Advantech in Dover.” Advantech is a security company that installs and maintains systems at public and private buildings, demanding a thorough understanding of electronics and electricity, which Wheway learned at Sussex while receiving various certifications.
“Initially as an intern, I was working with the service crew to learn the basics of the business,” he says. “But before I graduated, I was switched over to the installations team where I’m presently working.” As an intern, Wheway was paid $10
an hour, but currently he is receiving full pay and benefits. Security and fire alarm systems installers make an average wage of $56,576 in Delaware, according to the Delaware Department of Labor.
“Right now, I’m with the installations team at Salisbury University,” he says. “The university recently switched systems, so we’re installing access controls and security circuits.” There is also a lot of on-the-job training with Advantech, he says, and he has received certifications as he has learned new commercial systems. “The company pays for this — as long as we pass,” Wheway says. He is also attending a night program in electronics.
Even though he has been on the job for only a year, Wheway has talked with management about a career path that could also include college work. “Eventually, I would like to work in project management,” he says, and notes that he was a step ahead of the other new hires because he received good training in electrical theory in school. “It particularly helped out when I was troubleshooting,” he says.
Wheway’s advice to current students is, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Some people are afraid of asking questions. I’ve found out already that one way of getting ahead is to ask someone when you don’t know.”
Jaymeerah Harris: Learning Restaurants as a Line Cook
For Jaymeerah Harris, being a line cook is the stepping stone to her future in the hospitality business.
A 2021 graduate of Paul M. Hodgson Vo-Tech High School, Harris has worked as a line cook for the past year at Taverna, an Italian restaurant in Wilmington. “My duties as a line cook depend on which station I might have that day,” she says. “One day, it might be frying, another day I might be grilling, another sautéing. That way, I’m learning all the positions in the kitchen.”
And part of what she is learning depends on which shift she is working. “Normally, I work the closing shift from around 3 p.m. until 10:30, which means that our team is cooking, plating and serving,” Harris says. “But if I have the morning shift, then I’m working more on doing prep work for later in the day.”
Prep work can involve many tasks, including restocking stations with food supplies for the day ahead, washing and chopping vegetables and putting them into storage, doing the beginning stages of preparing stocks and sauces and generally performing any function that takes place in the “back of the house” — the part of the restaurant customers seldom see. All chefs — famous or otherwise — start on the line, and it’s the part of the business that managers have to understand even when they are working out front.
Unlike many businesses where there is a career ladder within a single establishment, Harris explains that most hospitality careers involve learning in more than one restaurant, hotel or other venue. “My next step will be to get different experience at a different place to see how things are done elsewhere,” she says.
For the moment, Harris feels she is still learning and that she got a good grounding in the basics at Hodgson. “My culinary class helped prepare me both with cooking skills, such as knife skills, and taught me how a restaurant functions,” she says. “The most difficult thing I had to learn was the consistency that is needed in food preparation.”
Her advice to students? “Keep yourself open to opportunities, whenever and wherever they come. I would say that you should never settle for something easy. If you want to learn, you have to continue to challenge yourself.”
Harris says she will probably eventually get into restaurant management, but that she also likes to help others learn. “I always want to be in a position where I can teach others to succeed.”
Karen Iscoa: A Friendly Presence for Moms-to-Be
“Doula” was a new word for Karen Victoria Iscoa, but it was a term she quickly embraced.
A 2020 graduate of Delcastle Technical High School, she had been working in food services before earning her professional birth doula certificate a year later in 2021. “As a doula, I am a birthing coach at a time when women really need support both before and after birth,” Iscoa says.
The term “doula” comes from the Greek for “woman who serves,” and though it is a traditional concept, the position
has been widely accepted throughout modern medicine. For example, the Mayo Clinic explains there are several services
a doula might perform, including physical comfort through techniques such as touch and massage and assistance
with breathing, emotional reassurance, information about what’s happening during labor and the postpartum period, communication support with hospital staff and assistance with breastfeeding.
Although doula isn’t a medical position, in addition to her work schedule, Iscoa is a full-time student in nursing at Delaware State University. “I expect to graduate in 2024,” she says.
Currently, Iscoa is employed at The Birth Center, a holistic women’s health care facility near ChristianaCare, and
operates her own business, Doula with Karen. “Mostly, I have contact with the mothers on the phone or through emails, but sometimes it will be at the hospital as well,” she says. She also did online training for a certificate in birthing and postpartum.
Although she is now a college student, Iscoa says, “I wasn’t too clear in high school as to whether I wanted to attend college. But I had great instructors at Delcastle who were also labor and delivery nurses.” Looking ahead, Iscoa says, “I can see myself in 10 years working as a certified nurse midwife.”
Her advice to students “is to give themselves the time after school to choose what they want to do in life,” she says. Perhaps reflecting a tenet of her new profession, some things, Iscoa says, shouldn’t be rushed.