By Christi Milligan
Senior Staff Writer
If there’s a formula for identifying the area’s emerging workforce needs, then Delaware Tech President Mark T. Brainard and his team may have found it: a wide-ranging advisory committee comprised of industry employers paired with a new research arm that identifies future-focused skill needs.
The result is an impressive batch of certifications and degrees aimed at giving industries climbing out of a recession exactly what they need – certified and advanced workers who boast a skill set ready to meet the demands of emerging technologies.
Delaware Tech’s Center for Industry Research & Workforce Alignment (CIRWA) is a new research arm of the Academic Affairs department charged with providing analysis of the region’s needs.
CIRWA is a “future-focused, labor-market research and analysis center aimed at identifying evolving change within an industry and assessing the impact on educational programs and the available workforce within the region,” according to its website. It uses data collected from the Department of Labor as well as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau and others.
“CIRWA enables the college to deliver on its mission of providing a high quality workforce to meet the current and emerging needs of the state,” explained Brainard. “Delaware Tech is proud of the work that CIRWA has completed.”
Brainard’s enthusiasm for the program is understandable. He’s a Delaware Tech graduate who later earned his law degree from Widener. He served as Governor Ruth Ann Minner’s chief of staff, and has worked at Delaware Tech in several capacities, culminating with being named Delaware Tech’s fifth president in August.
CIRWA was an additional layer of in-depth research,” explained Brainard. “Instead of just relying on traditional data, we added another layer.”
Traditional data remains at the forefront. It includes expansive committees of more than 1,000 regional industry representatives from private and public sectors, industries and other that the school leans on for an ongoing picture of the workforce landscape. “Our advisory committees are hiring our graduates,” reminded Brainard.
But it’s the combination – interaction with the faces of the area industries and the data generated by CIRWA – that drives the school’s offerings.
Steve Borleske, a former duPont executive who’s made a second career of pursuing large grant programs on behalf of Delaware’s collegiate science programs, was part of the team that sought to bring the CIRWA program to Delaware Tech.
“Academia needs to connect better with industry, understand their needs in these rapidly changing times,” said Borleske. “CIRWA is part of this whole movement – in this ‘reach out and touch me’ state of Delaware, we’re connecting the moving parts to produce the best product.”
Borleske praised Delaware Tech’s qualitative pulse on area industries, but said that the complexity of industry today demands a program like CIRWA to track area and national trends and translate those into improving the state’s economic viability.
CIRWA is funded through the USDOL Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training grant program and modeled after the California Centers for Excellence.
As part of its initial research project, in 2013, CIRWA looked at the state’s energy industry and identified a need for skilled engineering technicians in a variety of industries. While the results weren’t necessarily surprising, Brainard said they proved invaluable toward understanding what programs exist within those industries.
Borleske said the “aha” moment for his committee was the realization of how integrated these disciplines are, and it helped Delaware Tech officials to sculpt a Building Automation Systems option as part of its larger Energy Management program. Students can pursue separate certifications or an associates Degree.
While technical schools have traditionally trained students for entry-level positions, the program offers higher-level certifications and the opportunity to transition into four-year degree programs thanks to articulation agreements.
Articulation agreements developed in the mid-90s allow Delaware Tech students who graduate with an associates degree to pursue bachelor degrees in comparable programs at other colleges. There are more than 165 articulation agreements in place, according to Brainard.
Students can pursue individual certifications or in conjunction with related degrees offered at Delaware Technical Community College.
Traditional students looking for access to jobs that are in demand and nontraditional students opting for a career change find Delaware Tech meets their needs, Brainard said.
“In addition to the college’s advisory committees and partnerships with Delaware businesses, CIRWA is an important resource that enables the college to continue to anticipate the education and training necessary for Delaware’s future,” he said.