Importance of Technical Education in South Dakota

07 December 2017

Importance of Technical Education in South Dakota

South Dakota Steps Forward to Change the Educational Landscape:
Michael Carney, President, Lake Area Tech

Solving South Dakota’s workforce needs will require innovation as technology changes the demographics of the workplace.  In South Dakota and across the nation, key industries do not have enough technically skilled employees to fill the workforce needs. The demand for jobs which require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree remains strong. Between 2014-2024, 49% of job openings in South Dakota will require post-secondary education short of a four-year degree. These jobs account for over 55% of South Dakota’s labor market, but only 49% of the state’s workers are trained to this level.  South Dakota businesses are turning down contracts, foregoing expansion, and curtailing production because they cannot find technically skilled employees (

Just this last year, South Dakotans amended our state constitution to recognize Technical Education as the third form of education – giving us the traditional K12 system, the traditional higher education, and what I like to refer to as “HIRE” – (that’s H I R E ) technical education system.   The Technical Education system is focused on enabling South Dakota’s economic development by growing our technical skilled workforce.  But today, South Dakota could quadruple our welding, electrician, and licensed practical nursing program capacities and still not fill the openings just in our state.   These scenarios are repeated across the nation in every state, predominately in the manufacturing, energy, healthcare, aerospace, and transportation industries. 

  • Innovative approaches: Although Lake Area Tech is student focused, it is industry/community facing.  Meaning it gets its strategic cues and defines success based upon the community that it supports.  Lake Area Tech views college as pathway, not a destination – so we redefined success as placement not graduation. This makes college more relevant and meaningful for students.  And Lake Area Tech knows for more than 40% of our students, college is the road out of poverty – so we focus on keeping college affordable.  Therefore, a road that was previously perceived as less travelled, now seems achievable and a journey worth taking. 
  • Innovative partnerships: South Dakota’s Technical Institutes have partnered with Industry, communities, and State Government to take on our skills gap head on.  Over 300 businesses work with Lake Area Tech’s program staff and students to provide a coherent and relevant educational experience that support our state’s workforce demands.  These businesses consult and oversee curriculum, provide internships and on-the-job experience for students, provide industry standard training aides and equipment for the students to learn with, mentor our students, and most importantly they hire our students – in short, they are heavily invested in their pipeline.
  • Innovative solutions: Through the vision and generosity of T Denny Sanford and Governor Dennis Daugaard, students receive full ride scholarships to South Dakota’s technical institutes in return for working in South Dakota.  Lake Area Tech’s “Stretch-the-Million” program leveraged these funds with industry providing 50% more scholarships to students willing to work for a specific employer at graduation.   But the impact of the Build Dakota Scholarship reaches beyond just those students receiving scholarships.  The exposure and informational aspects of Build Dakota enabled the state’s public two-year technical institutes to grow when nationally 2-year enrollment declined by 10%. 

The need and value of four-year degrees is not waning, and will remain above 30% of our workforce.  Jobs that can be accomplished with a high school diploma are changing rapidly, dropping to 10% by 2030.  The result is a widening gap between the jobs available and the skilled workforce to fill those jobs. In 2030, up to 60% of our jobs will require post-secondary education short of a baccalaureate.