Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Classroom to Career

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Classroom to Career
By Rep. Kristi Noem

Every few months, I have the opportunity to welcome a new business to the state.  Almost every time, I hear versions of the following: “We started in (or expanded to) this area, because South Dakotans have the skills needed to do the job right – and the work ethic to do it right now.”  This is not by accident.  In addition to smart economic policies that create opportunities for employers to grow, South Dakota has a strong tradition of starting careers in the classroom. 

Much of this job-ready teaching is done through Career and Technical Education (or CTE) programs in high school.  Shop and home-ec were the CTE classes of my generation (and maybe yours), but today, South Dakota’s young people have access to courses that offer job-ready training in everything from IT and healthcare to skilled trades, like plumbing and welding.  Organizations like FFA, DECA, FCCLA, and FBLA also offer CTE opportunities, giving young people hands-on experiences in leadership, problem solving, and communication – translatable skills that students can take with them regardless of where the job market may lead.

In addition to offering opportunities for young people to pursue good-paying jobs in industries that are critical to our economy, a strong CTE program equips employers with a skilled workforce, ready to fill the jobs that are available.

Earlier this month, I helped the House pass the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which improves the federal programs that support many CTE opportunities in South Dakota and across the country. 

It’s been more than a decade since Congress weighed in on how federal investments into these programs are made.  As a result, they no longer reflect the realities and challenges facing today’s students and workers.

Among other things, our legislation offers states and localities more flexibility, so the programs implemented can better target the community’s needs.  Additionally, it encourages stronger engagement with local employers and meaningful credentialing so students are prepared to enter the workforce prepared for success.

Additionally, the legislation helps link high school curriculum to postsecondary education, investing equally in both areas.  That’s especially beneficial to South Dakota, which has some of the nation’s top community colleges.  In fact, Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) near Watertown was just recognized as one of ten finalists for the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence – a distinction that could come with a $1 million prize if LATI comes out on top.  The final winner will be announced in March of next year, but regardless of the outcome, a spot in the finals is an incredible distinction. 

I’m always proud to represent people with the work ethic of South Dakotans.  Investing in CTE programs means we’re investing into that work ethic and equipping young people in the classroom with the skills needed to be successful in the career of their choosing.

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