Where the Jobs Are and How to Get Them
Delaware employers have an open door and will guide job applicants through it.
Jenna Grasley has been in charge of searching for “early-career, full-time hires” for JPMorgan Chase since 2015, and, now that the economy has begun to roar back after more than a year of living under the COVID-19 pandemic slowdown, she has been busier than ever. As head of the company’s emerging talent programs for global technology, the Wilmington-based Grasley says, “We are always in need of software engineers, and we are committed to reimagining how we source job candidates.” Presently, that means looking for up to 80 job candidates at Chase.
John Collins, partner at FS Vector, which advises companies in various areas of financial technology, also attests that financial technology is on a roll. “That sector is really coming into its own and rapidly growing,” he says.
The fact is, most Delaware industries are booming and looking for new hires, whether teenagers just out of high school or people already in the workforce who want to change careers— just as thousands of workers have already done, using the pandemic slowdown to seriously contemplate how and where they want to work in the future.
“One of the major shifts over the past few years that I have witnessed is for credential-based job requirements,” says Paul T. Morris Jr., assistant vice president for workforce development and community education at Delaware Technical Community College. This trend means that having a certified set of skills often is more important to being hired than a college degree.
“The two industries where I have seen the greatest need for entry-level workers,” he continues, “are health care and construction — and that includes all aspects of construction. Since I oversee workforce development for the college, our programs in these areas are related to jobs such as certified nursing assistant, phlebotomist, patient care technician, laborer, heavy equipment operator and HVAC technician. The training beyond high school for these jobs requires some type of credential, certificate or license.”
One quickly growing area that is some what of an exception, however, is Grasley’s and Collins’ sector — financial technology, or “fintech” for short —which is close behind health care and construction in its immediate demand for jobs. In fintech, the need for prior certification is less critical than the need to be able to perform a task, no matter how you obtained that knowledge.
Financial services, a field once limited mainly to banking, has been transformed perhaps more than any other by digital advances, although banking is still the lynchpin of fintech in Delaware, with several major banking firms located here. But in recent years the sector has sizzled, as startup companies and technology entrepreneurs have created whole new fields within fintech, such as digital currencies, instant payments and money transfers, automated trading in markets and digital asset management.
As of July 2021, the website Ziprecruiter alone lists 40 fintech openings in Wilmington, with an average salary of $106,091.
“It’s an exciting industry at an exciting time,” Collins says. “Many new companies are well-funded and are willing to compete for job candidates.” In many startup companies, even relatively junior employees may be offered “skin in the game,” as Collins puts it. “Equity is often part of the employment package.”
But as Grasley is eager to point out, banking is not being left behind, either in employment needs or in aggressive recruiting. “We have need for technical skills all across all lines of banking,” she says. “Companywide, we have a team of more than 50,000 technologists,” engaged in everything from electronic payments and cybersecurity to machine learning and cloud development. These jobs also have portability across five states, Grasley says, including Delaware, as all are primary Chase operational centers.“
Job candidates who know how to write computer code are particularly in demand,” Grasley says, and it doesn’t much matter “whether they are self-taught, went to a coding camp or took classes at a community college.” Once on the job, Grasley says there are opportunities for additional training and movement between departments.
In a state until recently dominated by chemical and automobile manufacturing, it may be surprising to note that the largest private employer in Delaware is a health care system —ChristianaCare.
“The main job opportunities at present are for patient care technicians and medical assistants,” says Pamela Ridgeway, ChristianaCare’s chief diversity officer and the vice president of talent & acquisition. “We call everyone here ‘caregivers,’ but these are positions that provide direct care for patients.”
Both recent high school graduates and people transferring from non-healthcare jobs may still be hired immediately, even without prior certification, for some ChristianaCare positions such as medical assistant. “They can ‘back into’ our system,” Ridgeway says, with a paying job at the same time they are earning their certification. Medical assistants make salaries in the $30,000 range to start with, but Ridgeway stresses a tremendous potential for future job mobility.
Another health care job that remains much in demand is one with a more traditional career path: nursing. “There is always a huge demand for registered nurses, but it’s especially strong now,” says Karen Pickard, administrator of the Margaret H. Rollins School of Nursing at Beebe Healthcare. “Many nurses who were Baby Boomers had been considering retiring, and the COVID pandemic made that retirement decision for them,” she says. “We recently graduated 29 nurses in our program, and 24 of them are entering our Beebe nursing residency program.”
In Delaware, even entry-level registered nurses make $27.51 an hour, according to the Delaware Department of Labor. That translates to an annual salary of $57,200.
Other high-demand health care occupations include diagnostic medical sonographers, whose entry-level pay averaged $29.19 in Delaware in 2019; phlebotomists ($15.51 at the entry level); and physical therapist assistants ($22.62).
“For young kids just coming out of high school, apprentice programs in the trades give them a salary, medical,401K plans and vacations all while they’re in their early 20s — and they are not racking up any education debts,” says Ed Capodanno, president of ABC Delaware, which covers a wide variety of specialties within the building industry from plumbers to electricians to carpenters at work building everything from homes to highways. And, Capodanno adds, the jobs are open now, with many businesses in the construction industry scrambling to recruit young people.
Bryon Short, executive director of the Delaware Contractors Association, echoes Capodanno, noting, “There’s tremendous pent-up demand in contracting for projects in both the private and public sectors, along with the challenges of materials shortages and price escalation.” And he sees a larger societal change from the cultural focus that once demanded a four-year education. “The dynamics have changed,” he says,
“and people are beginning to realize that we need more skilled people.”
As Short notes, the industry welcomes workers who want to change careers. “For example, there was a Delaware woman with a B.A. in accounting working in an office who got to talking with an electrician who was making a business call. She decided she would rather do what he was doing, and now she is in an electrician apprentice program.”
Short also points to the diversity of jobs and career paths available. “Give me a student with any interest, and I will take her or him to an employer who can match that interest,” he says. “Even an art student might find a career in landscape architecture a rewarding one.” And that experienced worker wishing to change fields might be able to find a comparable-level job in construction, Capodanno says. For example, someone with a small-business background may be able to transfer to becoming a project manager in construction.
But it is the apprenticeship program— a practice that dates back to the Middle Ages — that is the backbone to the Delaware construction trade. A registered apprentice is sponsored by an employer who pays the new worker for wages earned during the day while sponsoring their classroom education in the evenings as an “earn while you learn” model.
In Delaware, there are currently 370 different employers with a least one registered apprentice, and there are more than 1,500 registered apprentices on the job at any onetime. The diversity of jobs is illustrated by the fact that there are more than 20 different trades or occupations involved, with the top five by numbers being electricians (who made $58,462 on average in Delaware in 2019); the combined fields of plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters ($62,892); HVAC ($52,469); sheet metal workers ($60,365); and construction laborers($37,361).
Advanced Manufacturing, Logistics and Hospitality
Among the other Delaware industries that have strong job needs are advanced manufacturing, logistics and hospitality.
Think of advanced manufacturing as being the opposite of craft manufacturing: an industry where innovative, cutting-edge technology is used to improve the production of any product. In many ways, the industry is defined by how it produces as much as by what it produces.
Nevertheless, there are industries that specialize in advanced manufacturing, including composite materials, 3D printing methods and software, electronics, biopharmaceutical and biomaterials production, and the manufacture of quantum materials. Computer skills come into play here, so job applicants who are proficient not only in programming but even in game playing are usually good candidates.
But getting good workers is not easy, according to Michael Quaranta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, which has a subsidiary called the Delaware Manufacturing Association. “We need to have an employer-led initiative to develop a common platform where we could train, say, 57,000 computer-education workers.”
For job seekers, this means that well-honed computer skills can go along way to landing a job in advanced manufacturing. Nonprofits and training facilities all across Delaware offer classes to do just that.
The field of logistics, meanwhile, is often associated only with the trucking and transportation industry. But while the physical movement of goods is certainly a key role, logistics also means getting things ready to ship at the point of origin, unloading the mat the point of delivery and getting them to the final customer. So logistics jobs can be as diverse as working in an Amazon fulfillment facility, driving a UPS delivery van, unloading a ship carrying Dole fruit from Central America, loading automobiles headed for Europe at the Port of Wilmington or distributing auto parts to regional service centers.
In short, jobs in logistics involve assembling and storing, packing and transporting, unpacking and delivery. And it’s not just the physical act of doing it, but planning how it can bed one efficiently.
One of the primary local job training and placement companies for transport drivers is the American Driver Training Academy in New Castle, which prepares students to earn their passport to trucking — the commercial driver’s license or CDL — within as little as four weeks. The company also has part-time training programs at night and on weekends for those who are switching fields but want to maintain their day jobs while in training.
The median annual pay for truckers in Delaware was $46,846 in 2019. In late June, the jobs search site Indeed.com reported it had job openings listed for 158 logistics positions in the First State. Other in-demand positions in logistics include aircraft mechanics and service technicians (paid an average of $66,768 in 2019 in Delaware); captains, mates and pilots of water vessels ($77,610); and commercial pilots ($104,234). None of these positions require a college degree or prior work experience in are lated occupation.
Anyone who has eaten in a coffee shop or restaurant in the days following the pandemic has seen firsthand the shortage of hospitality employees at all levels: food servers, the various levels of cooks or chefs, beverage workers and bartenders as well as managers.
The Delaware Restaurant Association has on its website a feature listing Delaware job openings in all aspects of the industry and which assists job candidates in applying for these positions. Hourly pay in food services is only an average of $16.60, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the industry does offer the advantages of providing immediate on-the-job learning, portability of skills and experiences from one location to another, as well as flexible employment for those who want to work outside the 9-to-5 time frame.
Where to Get Training
While most industries provide immediate job openings with no prior training necessary, there are at the same time a wealth of training programs in Delaware for those who want certified industry credentials. Those credentials often come with the prospect of higher pay and more advancement potential, along with job placement services offered by training providers.
One go-to source for explanation of training needs and programs available is Forward Delaware, a public-private partnership that lists opportunities on its website, ForwardDelaware.com.
For those just graduating from high school or contemplating career changes, there could not be a better time to take advantage of the silver lining of the COVID storm clouds.