DOVER — Leaders of industry, learning and economic development convened at Delaware Technical Community College’s Terry Campus on Tuesday to discuss the issues relating to workforce improvement.
Titled “Transforming the Workforce,” the gathering raised issues relating to workforce training, attraction, and retention. The consensus of the leaders gathered at the school’s Del-One Conference center was that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Scott Malfitano, vice president of CSC and chair of the state’s Delaware Workforce Development Board, said that, “we are living in unprecedented times.”
“In 2008, we all had a downturn and businesses were struggling; people were out of work. Right now, we have obviously more jobs than we do people,” he said.
In his job as a leader in a global business services enterprise, Mr. Malfitano said his company is experiencing the same issues around the world – more jobs than applicants.
As leader of the First State’s initiative to improve Delaware’s workforce, he said the state needs a new strategy.
“We are really trying to take a statewide approach. One of the things that we found, was that maybe in the past we weren’t listening to businesses enough. There was a lot of investment being made and we’re listening to businesses,” he said. “We need to understand who they are hiring, who is retiring, what strategy are they going to be putting in place for the next few years.”
Mr. Malfitano said that 40% of businesses in Delaware are looking to expand soon. He said many of the businesses set to grow are in the construction, manufacturing, and warehousing sectors.
Dr. Jonathan Wickert, state director of Career and Technical Education and STEM Initiatives part of the Delaware Department of Education, said state and business leaders have to, “work better together to solve the work force problems.”
Dr. Wickert said his division serves about 90,000 students currently in the school system and the post-secondary education space.
“That is the core of your workforce,” he said.
“So how can we stop and assess and say what is really working? And leverage on that and then figure out where the things are not working and find ways to move those forward. There is a lot of opportunity, but it only works if we work better together,” he added.
Dr. Vilicia Cade, superintendent of the Capital School District, said one of her district’s missions is to focus on workforce development.
Noting that the global COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the working landscape by introducing new ways for workers to get things done, her students will see a focus on new technologies and ways to study in their lessons.
“We’re in the process of launching an era of focusing on excellence in innovation,” she said. “We’ll be focusing on what a graduating (Capital School District student) who is prepared for the workforce of 2033 looks like.”
The Louisiana approach
The keynote speaker at Tuesday’s summit was the head of the state of Louisiana’s economic development efforts. Leaders from the Frist State recently took a trip to the Pelican State to see why its economic development team is routinely recognized as one of the top providers in the country.
Paul Helton, executive director of the Louisiana Economic Development FastStart Program, spoke via video conference on Tuesday. His message was one that Delaware’s leaders are starting to figure out – everyone must work together.
“It involves bringing industry, bringing them not just to the table but actively involved in supporting the robust programs that are part of our institutions. As recently as 10 years ago, Louisiana was a tech desert. Thanks to the significant investments that we made by economic development and carefully managed partnerships with our educational institutions, our colleges and universities are graduating and IT workforce now that meets the needs of our IT industry,” Mr. Helton said on Tuesday.
Mr. Helton’s department provides full-service workforce development programs. His agency works as headhunters for some of its clients, helping to actively find Louisiana companies the right employee. The Louisiana economic development office also works with companies to provide specialized company specific training.
Delaware officials said on Tuesday that they plan to stay in contact with their Louisiana counterparts to improve workforce efforts in the First State.
Hearing from bosses
Also on Tuesday, summit attendees heard from local business leaders about their challenges and how they are facing them.
Gary Jones and Veronica Palomino, both of the Eagle Group, said they make real efforts to address issues of work-life balance for their employees. The manufacturing enterprise based in northern Kent County offers tuition programs for their employees whenever they want to take advantage of them. The Eagle Group has also sought out ways for its employees to spend more time at home with their families.
Nick Polcino, Bally’s Dover Resort and Casino vice president and general manager, said he’d like to see students learn more soft skills. Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person’s relationships with other people
Scott Rathfon, vice president of Century Engineering, agreed. He said he’d like to see more of his incoming employees have skills to build relationships and work with customers.