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How Delaware is legislating workforce development

A recent roundtable of lieutenant governors, led by the First State's Bethany Hall-Long, discussed the future of economic development through skills training and apprenticeship programs.

Agricultural is a big sector in Delaware, and so is agtech. (Photo by Pexels user Pixabay, used under a Creative Commons license)
When you hear “economic development,” you might first think “job creation.”

There’s another component that gets overlooked, though it shouldn’t: workforce development.

Why? Because before you can attract — or even keep — traditional industries or develop new sectors, there needs to be a pool of labor that can meet the demands.

Delaware boasts a strong public research university, a central location in the Mid-Atlantic, relatively easy access to government officials and continued support of business and startups, according to Delaware Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall-Long. Yet employers maintain that while jobs exist, the workforce does not — in tech and other industries.

Seven members of the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association — including Hall-Long, the organization’s co-chair — met earlier this month in Wilmington to share ideas on workplace development and innovation. Here are some lessons from their public conversation, held at The Mill:

Matching skills and jobs

Panelists noted that there is often a mismatch between the number of job seekers and the volume of job openings.

“We see a lot of job training but not a whole lot of job placement, which doesn’t do anybody any good,” said Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.

One solution is to develop employment and training programs and services directly tailored to an industry’s workforce needs. Barnes cited the University of Wisconsin’s proposed Freshwater Collaborative which would allow students to pursue water-related studies at the school’s 13 campuses. It would also bring local, regional and global talent to the state to help meet demand for a skilled water workforce.

Nevada Lieutenant Governor Kate Marshall noted that when Tesla chose the state as the location of its lithium-ion battery plant in 2014, its investment partner Panasonic partnered with Truckee Meadows Community College to create the Panasonic Preferred Pathway (P3) Program, an employment credential for people with no manufacturing experience.

“Our community colleges are the key to our future in Nevada,” she said.

Delaware’s Hall-Long noted that while the financial and insurance sectors have become more important to the state’s economy, agriculture — especially family farming — remains important. “You can’t eat a computer,” she said.

She cited the success of Delaware’s eight-year-old Young Farmers Loan Program. The program offers a 30-year, no-interest loan to qualified individuals to purchase land, one of the chief obstacles to starting a business, according to its website. Since 2011, 34 farmers have received $7.7 million in loans to purchase 2,600 acres of land.

Building skills

Traditional classroom education continues to play an important role in workforce development.

Panelists agreed that adults need to have access to advanced learning opportunities and that more computer training be included in the public schools.

Kansas Lieutenant Governor Lynn Rogers noted that technology has become an indispensable part of doing business for every farmer: “Consider, you can now operate a $480,000 spray rig with an iPad,” he said.

Hall-Long noted that eligible high school graduates in Delaware can obtain two-year degrees at either Delaware Technical Community College or the University of Delaware through the SEED program, and the INSPIRE scholarship provides tuition assistance for students matriculating at Delaware State University.

Washington’s LG, Cyrus Habib, pointed out that while most of the jobs created after the recession required a college education, less than half of the working-age adults in the state held two- or four-year degrees. Complete Washington is an initiative that creates online degree programs specifically tailored to economically vulnerable populations.

“We need to set the 17-year-olds up for success by giving them the broadest education possible and that continues to be the bachelor’s degree,” he said.

Work-based learning approaches

Work-based learning programs are once again gaining favor in workforce development. Hall-Long noted Delaware’s continued support of its Registered Apprenticeship program which was recently expanded to include the hospitality industry. The state also developed a new Registered Pre-Apprenticeship Program for individuals who are not prepared for the Registered Apprenticeship Program.

Wisconsin’s Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship is the first formal agricultural apprenticeship in the United States. It was established in 2010 and has spread to 12 states and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Barnes said. Its goal: to link current and aspiring graziers in the transfer of farms, as well as sharing skills and knowledge.

“There are a number of adults who are over 40 who want to be a part of the program but don’t know how they can make a living doing it,” said Barnes. “This apprenticeship shows that there are opportunities out there.”

Companies: State of Delaware

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