Del. Workforce Development Board surveys needs of First State business owners

DELAWARE – Delaware’s workforce is rebounding from COVID-19. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still needs to be met for employers, according to the Delaware Workforce Development Board (DWDB).

Looking At The Needs

“We’re looking at the needs of the state as a whole, to come up with a strategic plan when it comes to the individuals that live here in the state of Delaware, as well as our business community,” said DWDB Executive Director Joanna Staib. “Like most states, we have more jobs than people right now. So, we really wanted to assess what those needs were from a business standpoint.”

Staib says the survey of business owners across the First State was born of a grant DWDB received through the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and American Rescue Plan Act funding.

“Delaware is pretty unique because we have to compete for talent with Philadelphia, with D.C.,” said Staib. “We’re strategically located on the East Coast. So, we really have to figure out what our businesses need, and figure out how to either skill the individuals in the state of Delaware to fulfill those needs, or to attract individuals here to the state.”

Education and Employment Opportunities

The survey found that 80% of respondents have positions open for those with a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED).

“While we are happy to say that if you have a high school or GED you can pretty much join any industry in Delaware. But, we want to dive a little deeper into that. We want to know what kind of jobs those are, what do they pay, is there opportunity for someone who comes in at an entry level position to advance, do they have on the job training, do they have any kind of apprenticeship?” said Staib. “Some kind of post-secondary education credential or certification is incredibly important. We know that it increases the ability for somebody’s lifetime earnings to increase immensely.”

Hiring Previously Incarcerated Individuals

Nearly half of respondents also said they are open to or have already hired individuals who were previously incarcerated. However, Staib says a large sample of respondents also listed “unsure” as their choice for that same question.

“That number increased when we looked at the respondents that had a smaller team of employees. So, for those that employ two to ten people, that number went up to 55%,” said Staib. “We’re also taking that ‘unsure’ as a little bit of an opportunity for us to educate some of those businesses, and give them a little more information about programs available in the state.”

Bolstering Skills

Another area of focus for the survey was where soft skills stand in the First State’s workforce. 53% of respondents cited self-motivation, 51% communication skills, 45% problem solving and critical thinking, and 43% attention to detail as gap areas in recruitment efforts.

“We can’t get away from the conversation that soft skills are really important. We need to continue to try to tackle those soft skills,” said Staib. “I think the self-motivation is probably an impact from COVID-19, where a lot of us were home for several years or at least a year.”

For the harder skills, like digital literacy, Staib says DWDB wants to see more work done before students enter the workforce.

“We need to continue to work with our k-12 systems to make sure that they’re doing whatever is necessary for our students, and teaching them those soft skills that businesses want to see in their workforce,” said Staib. “When you think about Microsoft Excel or Word, or just digital literacy, that’s something that the Workforce Board could potentially tackle pretty easily.”

Looking Ahead

With the data collected, Staib says DWDB is turning its focus towards finding solutions for business owners across the First State. That includes hiring a business liaison, and mapping training programs, wrap around services, and entrepreneurial assets.

“We’ll be taking a look at all of our pathways, in terms of the k-12 system, all the way up through a Masters Degree program. So, that’s certifications, it’s apprenticeship programs,” said Staib. “We know owning your own business is a great accomplishment, so we want to map what our assets are here in the state, and where they are.”

Beyond that, Staib says a policy review is in order. Staib says all the work will ultimately create a more cohesive look at the challenges the business community is facing.

“We’re going to do a policy review of all of our workforce policies within the state of Delaware, to make sure that we’re not creating any barriers or obstacles for individuals, and that we’re all aligned, in terms of where we want to be as a state,” said Staib. “All of this is going to come together in some way, shape, or form by early 2024 for us to really have a plan on how we move forward.”

Categories: Business, Delaware, Local News