Less than two weeks ago, tens of thousands of people attended the NFL draft and millions more followed on TV and online. Similarly, when top high school athletes commit to attend a college that’s recruiting them, there’s often an elaborate signing event with family, friends, and even the media.
All of that is great, and we should continue to celebrate young men and women pursuing their athletic dreams after high school, but we should also recognize other students making similar commitments for what they’ll do after Graduation Day.
That’s why last week, we were honored and excited to partner together for the New Castle County Vocational-Technical (Vo-Tech) School District’s own version of “Draft Day,” where a group of 13 high school seniors who have worked and studied for careers in the building trades, information technology, and health care, accepted full-time job offers from local employers.
These students may not run the 40-yard dash in less than five seconds, but they have natural talent and hard-earned skills of their own that we should celebrate, too. These students, representing hundreds more just like them, earned their job offers because of their performance in high-quality, skill-based curricula in their high school career and technical programs.
Thanks to their hard work, they now have industry-recognized credentials that, coupled with the valuable work experience they gained during their senior-year co-op placement, make them career ready right away as high school graduates.
For 50 years, Delaware’s Vo-Tech high schools have prepared tens of thousands of graduates for the workplace. This year alone, New Castle County Vo-Tech will graduate 1,100 seniors who have earned certifications in one of 40 different career programs of study. What’s more, 70 percent of them will have participated in co-op job placements, which don’t come easy.
In order to be eligible for a co-op placement, students must meet GPA requirements and demonstrate that they’ve mastered specific career program skill sets.
The rest of Delaware is keeping up the pace, too. Polytech in Kent County has 270 seniors earning credentials in one of 20 different career programs this year, and Sussex Tech has 356 seniors in one of 17 career programs offered there.
Because of their skills and work experience, many of these seniors will be hired to work for local, regional, and national companies, and others will begin apprenticeships in the construction and mechanical fields. They will continue to earn certifications while they are earning good wages and receiving full benefits, and many of them will begin to get promoted in stable, upwardly mobile industries.
We hear all the time from local companies that are looking to fill open positions offering good salaries and benefits, but they struggle to find applicants with the skills and work ethic required to fill those jobs. The shortage of the right candidates for those jobs is known, nationwide, as the ‘skills gap,’ and filling that gap is a fantastic opportunity for our economy.
Thankfully, we have excellent programs here in Delaware to train students for these promising careers, but we need more students and families to take a good look at what vocational and technical training can offer, because too often, most Americans think their option to advance their career is an expensive, and not always practical, four-year degree.
The simple truth is that a four-year college degree isn’t the only option for high school graduates, and it isn’t always the best one, either.
That’s why this week, the stars of the show “This Old House,” along with companies like Marvin Windows and Doors and Electrical Training Institute, will be in Washington to join Sen. Coons and a bipartisan group of Senators for a discussion about the importance of apprenticeships and how we can close the skills gap in Delaware and all around the country. Several Delawareans, including recent Delcastle Technical High School graduates, will attend and hear just how valued their skills are.
Last week, the seniors who signed their job offers at our event in Delaware were flanked by their new employers, career teachers, co-op coordinators, school administrators, and proud parents. These young men and women beginning their vo-tech careers are off and running toward a long, rewarding, lucrative career that can support a family and make an impact in our communities.
Next year, we hope to make “Draft Day” an even bigger event, and until then, we’ll be helping students and their families see all the options they can pursue after graduation.