Collaboration re-tools education in skilled manufacturing

GEORGETOWN — Delaware Technical Community College’s approach to providing employer needs in manufacturing has changed over the years.

Gone are the days of General Motors, Chrysler and DuPont.

“Delaware Tech has been doing manufacturing training for 50 years. Those large manufacturers are gone from our state,” said DTTC president Dr. Mark Brainard. “So, we did a little bit of re-tooling ourselves. We looked at the small and medium manufacturers and totally had to change the way we provided customized and individualized training to manufacturers.”

During this year’s Sussex County Today & Tomorrow Conference at Delaware Tech’s Owens Campus, Dr. Brainard was a round-table panelist with Heath Chasanov, superintendent of the Woodbridge School District.

At left, Woodbridge School District Superintendent Heath Chasanov speaks with Dr. Mark Brainard, president of Delaware Technical Community College.

Del Tech and Woodbridge are part of a collaborative effort geared toward manufacturing. The partnership is an educational tentacle in a Pathways to Prosperity initiative launched by then Gov. Jack Markell several years ago.

The joint Advanced Manufacturing Pathway effort includes the Seaford School District, the Governor’s Office, Delaware Manufacturing Association and Delaware Department of Education.

“We all came together and realized that we could create opportunities for students in western Sussex … that we couldn’t have done on our own,” said Mr. Chasanov. “There is a requirement that kids have to have a three-credit pathway in order to graduate. This is one of those pathways for our kids.”

Students receive national manufacturing certification as long as they meet the criteria. They also get credits from Del Tech, through its dual enrollment program.

“So, as you are getting high school credits you are also getting college credits,” Mr. Chasanov said.

It’s a two-year instructional program. At present Woodbridge has 14 students – nine juniors and five seniors in the manufacturing pathway.

The initiative was initially launched in New Castle County.

Grant funding got the ball rolling in Sussex County.

“We used a couple hundred thousand dollars to try to develop a program where we could provide a pipeline of entry level employees for manufacturers in the state,” Dr. Brainard said. “We were hearing from everyone from businesses owners like yourselves to the Governor that they could not find a pipeline of young talent. There was a problem. We had to convince young people that manufacturing was no longer dark, dirty and dangerous. It was clean high tech high skill high wage.”

With resources in hand, DTTC officials met with business partners and focus groups. “They told us specifically the skills and they needed for entry-level employees. The next phone call was to our K-12 partners,” said Mr. Brainard.

“This opportunity with the manufacturing program is right in the wheelhouse of that,” said Mr. Chasanov, whose background includes vocational education. “I saw the true marriage between the vocational and academic side of the house. We try to mirror that as much as possible at Woodbridge because it is important that every school, comprehensive or vocational is preparing kids for careers.”

Several years ago, Mr. Chasanov got the call from the Department of Education about the pilot program in New Castle. “I went up. I brought some of our board members. We fell in love with the program. It wasn’t the equipment. It wasn’t the instruction that was going on. It was the student engagement. It was the collaboration between the two districts that were using the program.”

“There is no way we do this by ourselves. The main thing that we did is we offered the building. We were very fortunate. Woodbridge High School was built. The old high school had a perfect building for this,” said Mr. Chasanov. “Del Tech, they were also looking for space to house the program. We just happened to be really fortunate timing-wise. It was when we were building the new high school.  The old structures building, the Barry Cooper Building, which is now at our middle school is where we are housing this. It was built as classroom. Our middle school really didn’t have a need for it at the time. It just worked out perfectly for us. And Del Tech has come in and done a tremendous job of keeping the building up, providing the equipment.”

“Our vision was to take our dual enrollment classes that we were already providing in the high schools and give a new type of student, a new type of high school an opportunity to spend an off in one of our high-tech labs,” said Dr. Brainard. “So, they could go to school one day in their home high school and go to our Advanced Lab on an alternating day and through that junior year get 300 hours of advanced manufacturing training.”

There is an additional 300 hours of instruction in the senior year.

Students ultimately graduate with a high school diploma and certification in advanced manufacturing, several hundred hours of training and experience and “up to 7 to 14 credits that would apply to our engineering program as advanced credit in dual enrollment.”

“This program is providing 100 to 120 entry level employees to manufacturing sector in the entire state thanks to the partners in the business community and in K-12,” Dr. Brainard said.

“Our kids now have opportunities that they didn’t have three years ago. Not every kid is going to go to college. Every kid should have an opportunity by the time graduate from high school in Delaware they should have an opportunity,” said Mr. Chasanov. “At Woodbridge our students are more than test scores. I say that to our staff every year, at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year and then we try to live it throughout the year. We are more about opportunity. When a student makes their way through our system, K-12, they should have opportunities in front of them to be successful. That is our main goal.”

Participating school districts do pay an annual fee to Del Tech as well as providing student transportation.

“It made a lot of sense,” said Mr. Chasanov. “Bottom line is it offers our kids right out of high school to have the opportunity to get decent paying jobs right out of high school and to have a skill that was very marketable. For us it was nobrainer. It probably the best professional partnership I have ever been involved in.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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