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"South Dakota is a template": Mike Rowe Joins Governor to Promote Technical Education

Jackie Hendry

Former Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe is joining Governor Dennis Daugaard to promote technical education in South Dakota. The all-day event (on Thursday) called “A New Day in Tech Ed in South Dakota” revolves around changing the conversation around educational opportunities. 

Governor Daugaard has made workforce development and tech ed a mainstay of his administration. He credits Mike Rowe for proving on a national scale that the world of work is more than pushing pencils and typing at computers.

“It still takes hands-on doers who are welders and builders, and those careers can offer great pay and there’s a short path to the credentials that validate your skill set," says the governor.

While South Dakota is outpacing other states in tech ed enrollment, the governor says there remains a shortage of skilled workers. As a partial solution, The Build Dakota Scholarship offers full tuition for students seeking a 2-year technical degree in high-demands fields. Recipients are required to work in South Dakota for three years after graduation.

Mike Rowe says South Dakota is a template for technical education throughout the country: “The government partnered with a private enterprise that’s determined to tell a better story and help close the gap."

But as emphasis turns to trade-focused education, some critics worry about a loss of critical thinking and other less tangible skills. Governor Daugaard insists that highlighting the value of different educational and career paths is not meant to demean the four-year degree.

“We need four-year degree engineers, we need four year degree IT professionals," he explains, "but we also need two-year degree folks.”

Both Daugaard and Rowe also emphasize the financial benefits of a tech degree, which often leads to high-salary positions and minimal debt. Rowe says in past decades, college meant accessing information. He then pulls his cell phone out of his pocket.

“It’s all there! 99% of the accumulated information on planet Earth is in my pocket!”

Rowe says the “either-or” mentality around education is the crux of the skill gap that has resulted in workforce shortages.

“It’s the area between the perception that ‘Blue collar is here’ and ‘White collar is there.’ It’s this giant space in between where opportunity falls, tragically,” says Rowe.

The “New Day in Tech Ed” event takes Rowe and the governor to Midwest Railcar Repair in Brandon, Lake Area Tech in Watertown, and Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls.