Friday, June 29, 2018

Finding Enjoyable, Well-Paying Work

A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

Work is an important part of personal fulfillment. True, most of us work because we must – to provide for ourselves and our families – but a job nevertheless gives us purpose. And when it’s work we enjoy that pays enough, well, that’s the goal.  

Unfortunately, many young people are struggling to find enjoyable, well-paying work. Some lack a degree or formal training – perhaps they went straight into the workforce after high school or started a program they didn’t finish. Even those who have degrees, though, often still have trouble finding meaningful work. For instance, of those who have a four-year degree, only 36 percent say their education prepared them for a job and more than half of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed. 

It’s not for lack of jobs. According to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, we now have more job openings than job seekers in America. A number of these jobs are higher paying, higher-skill jobs in areas like health care, cybersecurity and manufacturing. Unfortunately those looking for work often do not have the skills needed for these good jobs.

The Western Governors’ Association has spent the last year studying this “skills gap,” holding webinars and workshops all across the West to identify solutions. This week as my term as chair of the Western Governors came to an end, I hosted my fellow governors in Rapid City where we released our report on workforce. The report lists ways states can enhance career opportunities for students, graduates and displaced workers.

The recommendations include integrating state efforts, increasing the availability of training, expanding broadband access in rural communities and connecting education to careers. We need to ensure a degree isn’t the destination but a pathway to a job. That means providing students with better information and guidance so they can explore careers and make enlightened decisions about their futures. One way we’re doing this in South Dakota is through a pilot program called Career Launch. This program involving ten school districts pools resources to provide more career counseling and give students hands-on experience. 

For example, in Yankton, many high school seniors plan their schedules so that their traditional classes are compressed into half a day – morning or afternoon. During the other half of the day, the students work at a paid internship with a local employer. Each student receives high school credit, is paid at least $11 an hour, gains exposure to a career field and learns foundational skills – like how to arrive on time, dress appropriately and interact with customers and coworkers.

During my first term, I would often say, “Workforce is a marathon, not a sprint.” But now, as I’m nearing the end of my time as governor, I am realizing it’s actually more like a relay race. Over the past seven years, we have initiated several strategies. Some have worked, some haven’t and some remain to be seen. 

Next year, when my time in office comes to an end, I will pass the baton, and hope our new leaders will continue the race.