Consider what it would be like to be a college freshman in a two-year program and to have a job waiting for you with an annual salary of $60,000, $70,000 or even $80,000. Those are the paychecks graduates of some technical college programs can look forward to earning.
Consider also what it would be like to be an employer who has trouble filling those jobs. The big paychecks reflect the high market demand for employees with skills in fields like power plant management and diesel technology.
North Dakota political and business leaders regularly complain that the workforce shortage is the biggest factor holding back the state’s economy. Yet the North Dakota Legislature just passed on the chance to do something big in workforce development.
Lawmakers chose not to appropriate any of the $30 million Gov. Doug Burgum recommended to help establish workforce academies around the state.
One such academy is planned in Cass County. It will be a collaborative effort involving four public school districts — Fargo, West Fargo, Central Cass and Northern Cass — as well as the North Dakota State College of Science, which is based in Wahpeton and has a satellite campus in Fargo.
The initiative comes with an estimated $30 million price tag. So far, supporters have pledges representing almost $12 million of an expected $15 million to be contributed by businesses.
The other half was to have been split between state and local public sponsors, but the Legislature’s refusal to put any money in the pot means local it will be up to private and local sources.
North Dakota’s support for students who want to pursue a technical career path lags far behind its support for those who are college bound. Apparently, lawmakers were reluctant to provide state funding when Bismarck Public Schools, in partnership with Bismarck State College, established a successful career academy without state support.
Similarly, Moorhead Area Public Schools recently pounced on an opportunity when the district bought a former Sam’s Club store. The purchase price was $4.2 million, and officials estimate another $13 million in renovations will be required.
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We applaud Moorhead public school leaders for seizing an opportunity. They’ve taken an important step toward establishing a career academy to train students who don’t want to go on to a four-year degree program, but can make important contributions to the skilled labor force.
The Moorhead school district has about 6,000 students, while the four Cass County school districts together have about 25,000. So it should be possible for them, in partnership with NDSCS and private sponsors, to come up with the money they need.
The search for public dollars was essentially on hold in the hope that state legislators would help them get halfway there. That won’t happen, at least over the next two years.
Without state support, the backers might have to get more creative. Perhaps those pushing for the Cass County career academy will also find a suitable abandoned big box store that could be converted?
Regardless, the time has arrived for everyone pushing for this project to redouble their efforts. Everyone agrees a career academy is a pressing need in North Dakota’s major metro area. It’s time to get this project off the ground.
As a rule of thumb, 10 percent of the student body in districts with a career academy opt for that path. Imagine what that would mean if 3,100 skilled workers every year — 600 from Moorhead and 2,500 from Cass County — were graduated from local career academies?