The future of technical education is on the minds of those running for the state’s highest office.
On Thursday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton was given a tour of Yankton’s RTEC facility and a rundown on the services it offers to its students, ranging from local high schoolers to prison inmates.
Sutton had high praise for the Yankton operation.
"I think they’re on the cutting edge of working to address the workforce shortage here in South Dakota and teaching people skills," Sutton told the Press & Dakotan.
He said there’s a great importance to locations like RTEC, Mitchell Technical Institute and others that teach career and technical education (CTE).
"(They) seek to address workforce needs that we have all across South Dakota," he said. "Here in Yankton, there’s over 700-some job openings and probably over 100 of those are welding needs. Facilities like this are going to be very critical to addressing those needs."
During the course of the tour, Sutton saw RTEC’s welding facilities and a new addition where Yankton High School students will work on various projects, including a house. The tour was led by RTEC president Josh Svatos and a host of other RTEC and Yankton Area Progressive Growth officials.
RTEC had just begun utilizing the new building this past winter.
In addition to teaching those in a more populated setting, Sutton said there’s a need for more CTE in rural areas of the state.
"I think we need to get creative in how we do it," he said. "I often tell the story of what Burke did. They got a grant from the Future Fund, which the governor controls, and were able to buy for mobile units. They partnered with three other schools — Gregory, Colome, Burke and South Central all got to have a mobile unit and every kid in high school had an opportunity to take one for those courses."
He said the expansion of CTE will depend on consulting with established programs and figuring out the resources that are needed.
"It starts with a discussion with folks like RTEC, schools, parents and employers about, ‘How do we address our problems? What’s the best path moving forward? And how do we find the resources to get the job done?’" he said. "I think that’s going to mean public-private partnerships, schools chipping in, and I think that means the state chipping in as well to provide opportunities for our kids to at least have the opportunity to learn a skill and potentially put that to use."
Sutton said that the most important thing is giving South Dakotans a chance to pick up a new skill, even if they don’t necessarily decide to use it in their chosen career in the end.
"At the very least, they learned a skill," he said. "Maybe they don’t like that career path and they choose something different, but that’s OK. We’ve just got to create opportunities for our kids.
Thursday’s visit was part of Sutton’s "Main Street Tour" portion of his campaign.
Sutton will face Rep. Kristi Noem in the November election.
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