Sussex Technical School District offers a 4-year electrical training program in Delaware's fastest growing county, where construction is booming, and employers can't find enough electricians.  

Lynn Danner, Industrial Training Coordinator for the District's Adult Division, saw a potential solution to this pipeline challenge in their English as a Second Language (ESL) population.  "There's an expanding population of English language learners in this area.  Each year, as we run our orientation, we find that we're turning all these hard-working people away because of their reading and math levels, and we wanted to create an opportunity."

Sussex Technical School partnered with the Delaware Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship and the principal of the local Adult High School who oversees ESL services to create a 1-year electrical pre-apprenticeship program for the ESL population.  They created an integrated instructional class that runs parallel to the District's traditional first-year electrical training curriculum - covering the same material, but at a slower pace and with the benefit of both an electrical instructor and an ESL instructor in the classroom.  The program takes 174 hours (30 more than the traditional first year), offered as 3-hour classes two nights a week for two semesters.

After screening 25 applicants for level 5 or 6 English proficiency on the ICAO English proficiency test, good ESL class attendance, and proof of legal residency, 15 individuals were admitted to the program.  Students began their studies in December 2017 and expect to complete in July 2018.  At that time, they will be eligible to join the non-ESL electrical students and progress to the second year of classes.  The ESL pre-apprenticeship goals are for the students to: (1) improve their literacy, math, and technical skills; and (2) find employment in the electrical trade, preferably as Registered Apprentices.

Fiamma Rago, Project Manager with the state Office of Apprenticeship, stresses the importance of braiding funding and ensuring compliance with applicable rules for each funding stream.  In Delaware's case, the ESL funding used to pay for the ESL instructor requires that services be provided at no cost to the student, so the state provided State Apprenticeship Expansion (SAE) grant funds to cover the costs of the technical instructor, participant books and supplies, counseling, and placement assistance.

One challenge is that - despite limiting participation to students with level 5 or 6 English proficiency - there is still a wide range of reading and math comprehension skills that seems to correlate with the amount of formal education a student received in his or her home country.  To address this challenge, Sussex will begin offering an optional third night of class each week with the ESL instructor to focus on reading and math basics for those students who need more instructional time.  Danner encourages anyone developing a similar program to be flexible and ready to adjust the approach as issues arise.

This project is a win-win-win for the state, an underserved population, and employers, Rago says.  "We want to expand apprenticeship for underserved populations.  In Sussex County, there's a need for more electricians, so this is one way we can do that and help businesses."   For more information, contact the state Office of Apprenticeship at

This SAE grantee spotlight was first featured in in the February 2018 Apprenticeship Connections Newsletter, a resource for SAE grantees.  SAE grants were awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor to 36 states and 1 territory in November 2016.  To view other SAE grantee spotlights, visit the Apprenticeship Connections Newsletter archive on the Apprenticeship Community of Practice.