Delaware’s workforce development strategy is intelligently adapting to new realities

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On January 10, Delaware Governor John Carney announced that approximately 350 state jobs under the Delaware Department of Human Resources will no longer require a bachelor’s degree, adding to approximately 210 state positions opened in previous changes to requirements for some Government roles. The move is consistent with national hiring trends in the private and government sectors, with former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, and the federal government already making similar statements.

Regarding the change, he said: “By aligning job requirements with professional experience, and paying more attention to the individual candidate’s skills, we will better serve the people of Delaware.”

Talk about return on investment in higher education is long overdue.

On October 1, 133,600 Delawareans resumed payments on more than $5.1 billion in cumulative student loan debt. With Delaware ranking No. 49 in the states for lowest student debt upon graduation, two generations of employees, Millennials and Generation Z, worry they will never be able to buy a home or retire due to low student debt levels.

Delaware Governor John Carney

Delaware Governor John Carney

The decision also addresses a workforce bottleneck. Delaware’s unemployment rate was 4.2% in November 2023, compared to the national rate of 3.7% in the same month. Even with more jobs than people in Delaware, there is still a stark imbalance in the skills employers need versus available workers with the required training.

“A bachelor’s degree can be an unnecessary barrier to hiring qualified professionals,” said Claire DeMatteis, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Human Resources, in the governor’s press release.

By removing a barrier for skilled people who have been denied thriving, well-paying jobs because they do not have a certain degree, the governor’s announcement brings hope. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey covering the five-year period ending in 2022, the majority of Delawareans — 66% — ages 25 and older do not have a bachelor’s degree. They can now benefit from the country’s focus on skills requirements.

There is no doubt that in the long run, earning a college degree will still be worthwhile. The 2021 median income for Delaware residents with a bachelor’s degree was about $61,000 compared to a median income of $35,600 for high school graduates without a college degree. These income and opportunity gaps worsen annually and extend across generations.

One thing is clear: for the higher education sector to remain relevant, it must adapt to the new reality. To this end, the accredited nonprofit Western Governors University leads the Open Skills Network, a coalition of employers, education providers, policymakers, the military, nonprofits, and other stakeholders dedicated to promoting skills-based education and employment.

The mission includes workforce development efforts such as skills mapping to ensure our graduates have the skills employers need by closely aligning curriculum with what hiring managers actually need. OSN partners are working together to create a national system of competency-based education, which measures skills and subject knowledge rather than time spent in the classroom. Each student progresses individually through the courses once they have demonstrated that they have mastered the material.

The flexibility of this approach means that students are able to work full-time while gaining the skills needed for a future career at their own pace. This approach benefits both workers and employers by saving time and money and developing a more diverse workforce that meets the needs of our modern economy.

We are at a crossroads in how we develop the talent of our workforce. Delaware faces a skills gap, resulting in a shortage of qualified employees in a wide range of critical fields, including education, fintech, and manufacturing, among others. When skilled workers without college degrees are given the opportunity to earn a living wage, they are able to expand their career opportunities through competency-based education.

Cynthia Merrill serves as interim regional vice president for Western Governors University, an accredited, nonprofit university focused on competency-based learning serving more than 850 students and alumni in Delaware.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Delaware Workforce Development: Carney Responds to the New Reality

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