Analysis: Gov. outlines career paths program in period of tight budget

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Markell visits booth vendor at manufacturing event.
Markell visits booth vendor at manufacturing event.

Gov. Jack Markell last week outlined an Accelerated  Career Paths program that would allow high school juniors and seniors to obtain professional manufacturing certificates when they graduate.

“To keep our economy growing, we must meet the needs of our manufacturing employers,” said Markell during an address at the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce Legislative Brunch and Manufacturing Conference.”

Markell proposed  the program in his State of the State Address earlier this year and in the budget address that followed proposed $1 million in spending. Delaware has not benefitted from a modest turnaround in manufacturing in the U.S. as costs become more competitive with overseas companies. The state  lost both of its auto plants in 2008 and 2009 and more recently saw the idling of  the Evraz steel plate mini mill in Claymont.

Delaware’s Accelerated Career Paths program ensures high school graduates are ready to start a career on day one.

Under a  partnership from Del Tech and the Delaware Manufacturing Association, the initiative will involve developing a two-year program in manufacturing technologies for Delaware high school juniors and seniors.

The program – which would lead  to nationally recognized advanced manufacturing certificates, in addition to a high school diploma and even some college credits – allows students to attend classes at their home school part of the week, while spending the remainder at the community college getting hands-on training.

Students will attend classes in their home schools and receive training on manufacturing equipment at Del Tech so they can get the hands-on training necessary to land that first job, according to a release.

“So many of the best jobs available now are in technical fields requiring electrical, mechanical, and maintenance skills,” said Mitch Magee, chair of the Delaware Manufacturing Association. “These are jobs that pay very well, often better than entry-level jobs attainable with a college degree, and we must offer the opportunities to become certified for these positions.”

The Delaware Manufacturing Association and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership are working to help identify members willing to offer   opportunities during the summer between junior and senior year. This effort recognizes that, whether it takes the form of hands-on work or job shadowing, direct exposure to the workplace is crucial, the release stated.

The manufacturing association has agreed to assist on other fronts including making students aware of the opportunities in the key  sector of the economy.

The Extension Partnership is facing its challenges, after the departure of its long-time leader  a couple of years ago and a takeover in supervision of the program by Delaware Tech.

Funding for the program is not a sure thing as legislators struggle with proposals for an increase in the gas tax and  a property tax surcharge to pay for clean-up of the state’s waterways. The Democratic majority in both houses is not happy with either proposal, but faces prospects of sharp cuts in highway work if the tax is not enacted.

The State Chamber also weighed in with a letter suggesting that more budget trimming was needed before the group could support raising revenue through a gas tax or other method.

At the same time, Delaware Tech has remained popular with legislators who have been responsive to its funding requests.

Republicans have proposed across-the-board cuts in funding to come up with gas tax funds. An increase in some corporate fees was passed by both houses this month.

GOP legislators have not proposed specific cuts, other than one plan to trim to 2 percent off of every agency’s budget.

The governor’s proposal  is modeled after a partnership between Delaware Technical Community College and Red Clay Consolidated School District. That program brought in high school juniors in the fall of 2012 for more than 300 hours of training in carpentry, plumbing, electricity, and OSHA Construction Safety.

The governor’s office reported that enthusiasm for the manufacturing partnership idea resulted in two schools – William Penn and Del Castle – piloting a shorter version of the initiative this semester at Del Tech, where 16 seniors are taking an intensive course covering math, blueprint reading, electrical and mechanical fabrication, and other key skill areas.

“Accelerated career pathways allow high school graduates to start a career on day one, without the time and financial investment required to pursue higher education,” said Markell. “They are the right choice for many of our students, including some of our best and brightest, and we need to make sure that we provide the training and workplace opportunities these young people need to excel.”

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