Commentary: Sussex Tech denial a blow to trade schools

I just can’t believe it. This makes no sense. The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce recently held a workshop with Delaware Tech, The National Association of Workforce Boards and Delaware Gov. John Carney.

Even the Department of Education, (DOE) has reversed their education direction toward this subject.

That being, “The future of work is changing. The need for the blue collar worker is greater than those entering college, some college graduates earning degrees in fields which no longer exist, and are left with mounting college debt.

Yet, DOE has DENIED Sussex Technical High School their request for a certificate of necessity, (CON), the first step in obtaining state support and funding for a capital improvement project for a $150.5 million replacement school at the current Georgetown campus.

It’s not that DOE doesn’t support such a project, it’s just not Sussex Tech’s turn. They have other school CON applications before this one and they’ll have to wait, how long no one knows.

Frank Calio

Nothing against higher education, I’m all for it, but we have not only a statewide shortage of trades people, but a national epidemic. Many of these college students are flipping burgers to get by because they can’t find a job in this crowded labor market, which has seen the loss of many white collar and manufacturing jobs being taken over by companies moving overseas or being replaced by robots/modern technology.

Where do these people who review the CON applications have their heads; buried in the sand? In their defense I’m sure they are bound by regulations to make the decision they did, but every law on the books has a loophole. This one is called, “An Emergency”!

Meanwhile we struggle to find someone to repair our lawn mowers, auto mechanics, body shop workers, HVAC techs, electricians, masons, carpenters, repair appliances, welders, machinists, the list goes on, trades which are not going to disappear anytime soon and are paying darn good money.

Many advertisements are popping up asking for people to learn a trade. They will train pay good money in many fields while you learn your trade with no college debt. The downside to most trades; must get hands dirty, and must show up for work.

My generation is responsible for urging their children to attend college, have a white collar job and not work as hard as Dad did, which earned him enough money to provide his family a good living and send his kids to college.

Gov. Carney is moving in this direction toward trades, as is Delaware Technical Community College.

Sussex Tech Superintendent Stephen Guthrie has revamped his students’ program direction toward training our future work force yet still attracting students who want to attend college.

We know not everyone is college material; what are we doing for those who will graduate with a high school diploma and no job skills? Give them the opportunity to learn a trade.

Guthrie and his school board, noting they are facing escalating expenses for its aging buildings, over six add-on buildings since the original construction, security upgrades, the necessity for improved, graded and flexible space for technical area classrooms to accommodate industry-standard equipment and technologies in future years. (there are an estimated 100 exterior doors to the school, a red safety issue), and the need to improve traffic flow along U.S. 9, hired an independent architectural and engineering firm, for a feasibility study which took five months.

Three options were presented to the administration; Renovating only the oldest parts of the complex and continuing patchwork repairs to the newer wings, at a cost of $190.2 million; Renovating the entire school complex, at a cost of $177.6 million; or to build a new 313 square-foot building on a wooded portion (back of the current school) that’s part of the current Sussex Tech campus for $150.5 million, the lowest cost and the option the board accepted.

Seems like a bundle of money but this includes new equipment for the body shop and all the trades they will teach, furniture, teaching aids, etc.

In case you didn’t know, this school doesn’t shut down at the end of the school day. They have adult classes in the evening, (2,800 students) teaching the same trades to those who want to enhance their trade learning, or learn a new trade. Then there are the GED classes they teach who dropped out of school for various reasons, and want to earn their high school degree. Many of these graduates go on to higher education to earn a degree usually at DelTech.

Meanwhile, Guthrie has instituted a strategic plan to encourage more students toward a career path in the trades, including finding businesses willing to sponsor students to learn trades through working with their businesses and earning money while learning.

He says he has many businesses willing to sign on, many who welcome the opportunity to find people willing to work.

I guess DOE will approve Sussex Tech’s building request some day, but in the meantime if you can’t find someone to fix your AC when the heats hits 100 degrees, or repair your heating system when it’s 50 degrees in your home, don’t come crying to me. Complain to DOE.

Meanwhile Sussex Tech has spent over $14 millions in repairs just keeping the doors open. Buy stock in duct tape.

Frank Calio is a former Delaware state election commissioner. He resides in Laurel.

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