COMMENTARY: Delaware creating pipeline of skilled manufacturing workers

In Delaware, as in many places across the nation still recovering from the Great Recession, there is a common cry for more jobs. Yet in an economy where technology is driving incredible change in nearly every major industry, we must also address the skills gap.

Consider manufacturing. At one time, Delaware was home to the world’s first nylon plant which employed over 4,000 of our residents, and Chrysler and General Motors were manufacturing strongholds. It’s been more than a decade since DuPont sold their nylon business and Chrysler and GM are no longer here, but as in other states around the country, Delaware’s manufacturing industry has evolved and is re-emerging. Once perceived as dark, dirty and dangerous, today’s manufacturers are employing cleaner, more efficient processes as well as workers with the expanded skill set needed to apply today’s technology. Herein lies the skills gap.

Dr. Mark T. Brainard

Dr. Mark T. Brainard

Enter Pathways to Prosperity.

Last year, in response to a need expressed by the Delaware Manufacturing Association for a pipeline of skilled workers to help the industry thrive in this new era, leaders from across the state came together to create a dual enrollment program for Delaware high school juniors and seniors.

The two-year program kicked off in the fall of 2014 in two of our state’s school districts and provides students the opportunity to finish high school with real world experience, college credits and industry credentials that provide a jump start on a career in manufacturing. It is the first career and technical education pathway in Gov. Jack Markell’s Pathways to Prosperity initiative, focused on ensuring that more young people complete high school and attain postsecondary credentials that lead to jobs.

While the first class of manufacturing students won’t graduate until next year, two more districts signed on this fall. And there are plans to expand again next year. The program’s success is founded on partnerships, industry-recognized credentials and highly qualified graduates.

Broad and deep partnerships

Delaware’s Advanced Manufacturing Pathway demonstrates the power of partnership to create a curriculum that engages students in learning the skills most valued in our economy. With support from Gov. Markell, Delaware Tech took the lead in creating the curriculum based on decades of experience in training for this industry and a proven dual enrollment model.

Our partners include Delaware’s Department of Education who assisted with curriculum development; the Delaware Manufacturing Association who vetted the curriculum and garnered support from its membership to provide summer craftsmanships; Delaware’s congressional delegation who helped obtain federal funds for instructional equipment that would be used to support the program; and Delaware’s General Assembly who approved funding for the pilot. The enthusiasm and commitment across so many sectors has been unprecedented.

Stackable credentials

Students who complete the program will sit for one of two national exams to earn certification in either production or logistics. These certificates ensure that graduates have the skills Delaware manufacturers are looking for and provide a foundation to earn additional credentials.

Completion of the Manufacturing Pathway also accelerates progress toward a college degree. Graduates will earn advanced standing at the College in in such majors as engineering technology and operations management. And the program can be completed in conjunction with college courses like math and English, giving high school students even more opportunities to earn credits that will apply to a future major.

A competitive edge

Students in the program participate in over 600 hours of hands-on learning in the College’s high-tech training facility and are offered a paid summer work experience or “craftsmanship” at a local manufacturing company. While technical skills and experience are essential, acquiring the appropriate professional skills can provide graduates with a competitive edge in the job market. The curriculum, which emphasizes team work, leadership, communication and decision-making, is designed to help participants develop these professional behaviors.

This fall, our first class of manufacturing students entered their second year, and 60 new students began the program, putting us on track to fill 100-150 job openings in the next three years. Agilent Technologies, a leader in the life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemical markets, is one of the local employers who offered craftsmanships to students this past summer.

According to Agilent’s Senior Director Liza Bartle, “The program is meeting a significant need we had to find a good source of candidates to continuously replace our retiring employees with capable and mature young men and women.”

As Delaware leaders work together to preserve, transform and expand the state’s manufacturing sector, the Manufacturing Pathway is an innovative and promising initiative that is fulfilling a workforce need and preparing high school students for exciting, high-tech careers. It’s a model we are proud to share.

For more information on the program, please contact Paul Morris, Delaware Tech’s assistant vice president for workforce development and community education, at 302-571-5301.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Mark T. Brainard is president of Delaware Technical Community College.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.