Mike Rowe spotlights A New Day in Tech Ed

During the recession of 2008-09, when Mike Rowe was traveling the nation experiencing some of America’s most colorful—and always dirty—jobs, he kept seeing “Help Wanted” signs, despite the disturbingly high unemployment rate. That’s when he learned about the skills gap.


“The skills gap was obvious,” Rowe said in a talk to students at Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls. “There were two to three million jobs that nobody wanted—and I was being asked why opportunity was dead.”


Rowe realized it would be a good idea to shine a light on the career possibilities that existed and help young people understand that the path to opportunity begins with the mastery of a trade.


“In our country, 300 million people have to get hip to the fact that skilled tradespeople do the things we take for granted, whether it’s making electricity magically appear when we flip a switch or providing smooth, safe roads,” Rowe said. “We need to appreciate the incredible, miraculous jobs technical students do.”


Rowe was in South Dakota promoting “A New Day in Tech Ed,” visiting places like Midwest Railcar in Brandon, Lake Area Tech in Watertown and the Career & Technical Education Academy and Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls. Governor Dennis Daugaard traveled with Rowe, who praised South Dakota’s efforts to spotlight the great careers available in technical education through the Build Dakota scholarships.


Build Dakota scholarships pay the tuition and fees for qualified students entering high-need workforce training programs at one of South Dakota’s four technical institutes. Recipients are committed to give three years of full time employment in South Dakota in a high-needs field in exchange for the scholarship. The scholarship fund began in 2014 with a $25 million gift from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, matched by a $25 million future funds grant from Governor Dennis Daugaard. In addition, about 200 businesses in South Dakota have become partners by contributing to the fund, helping to build a talent pipeline that benefits their companies and South Dakota’s future. So far, the scholarship fund has helped to train 1,000 students in vital skills careers.


“I’ve never seen a program as good as South Dakota’s,” said Rowe, whose own mikeroweWORKS Foundation has provided $5 million in work ethic scholarships across the nation. “South Dakota can become a model for other states. There are always things we can’t control, but we can control the definition of a good job.”


Rowe pointed out that students in educational institutions like Lake Area Tech, the Career & Tech Ed Academy, Southeast Tech and other skills-oriented training schools are the ones who understand a new equation for success.


 “You are getting a skill,” he reminded the students, “and you’ll graduate without debt. You are learning a trade that will afford you not just a job but a career.”


The Build Dakota scholarships and the support given to technical education schools across the state show that South Dakota understands that concept.


 “These two-year technical degrees that offer a skill that’s in demand today, that’s a very valid pathway to success,” Daugaard said. “It doesn’t mean that when you graduate with that two-year degree and you start in a job in a certain area, that’s the end to your career. It just means you have an entry ticket to a real job that pays well and then the sky’s the limit from there.”

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Workforce Training: The Sioux Falls Advantage

There is better training for our workforce in Sioux Falls. A multitude of options are available to meet businesses' needs at the postsecondary level including city programs, state grants, technical training, and a new $50 million scholarship program for technical school students.

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