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State to unveil new program to provide more career counseling for SD’s students

School supply photo illustration. (Matt Gade/Republic)

The effort to create more job opportunities for South Dakota's students continues.

At a recent meeting of the Board of Technical Education, officials with the governor's office informed board members of a new initiative to kick off in January. The initiative is a pilot program taking place in four South Dakota school districts to provide more career counseling for the state's younger generation.

"Our goal would be to do a better job in providing career exploration opportunities for the young people in South Dakota," said Kelsey Smith, a policy adviser with Gov. Dennis Daugaard's office. "Whether that be through career counseling, a work-based learning experience through an internship or apprenticeship, really it doesn't matter. Those are the two areas that most stakeholders are in agreement: That we can do more."

The pilot program — which is a collaborative effort among the governor's office and the departments of education and labor and regulation — will take place in the Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Yankton and Brookings school districts, but is intended to benefit all of South Dakota's schools, Smith said.

Smith said between state and federal funding, 11 people were hired to serve as career counselors for the four districts, and one person as the program coordinator. The 12 individuals are South Dakota Department of Labor employees, Smith said, but will work with, and in some cases directly within, the four districts.

The 12 will begin within the first few weeks of January — as the schools begin again for the semester — and will work for the entire calendar year of 2018. In the summer, the counselors will assist in internships, apprenticeships and working with industry leaders, Smith said.

"The governor hears over and over how it is really difficult (for industries) to maintain their workforce and we hear that in a variety of industries and we hear that regardless of what time of year it is," Smith said.

And the program will not only help South Dakota's businesses play a role in the workforce future, Smith said, but also get students more experience in various jobs to help them make career decisions.

"Aside from that, it's just a really good effort for young people of South Dakota to see that there are really great jobs available in their home community and in their home state," she said. "And they should have better opportunity to get in those jobs and see what those jobs are like."

Smith wasn't alone in talking about the pilot program at the Board of Technical Education meeting.

Mitchell's Terry Sabers, who is a co-president at Muth Electric and is a member of the board, said apprenticeships have been especially helpful in various industries such as construction. Sabers added that the program will be a great step in helping high school students choose the direction that best fits them in the long term.

But, Sabers said the state Department of Labor may need ideas on how to best utilize the career coaches, and it's up to the four technical schools to provide input and help in any way they can to shape the program.

"Are they really good at being a job coach for a high school student? I think all four of your facilities and your staff are very good at that," Sabers said, focusing on officials with the state's technical institutes. "I think the more active each of you are in helping to design how the program works, the more it'll help."

Finding a 'better career pathway' for students

The state's smaller schools will also see direct benefits in the long run, Smith said.

Citing Kimball as an example, Smith said there aren't as many business leaders who have the capabilities to provide an internship for a student, but would like to.

The pilot program will be used to figure out how to solve this problem and what "makes the most sense" in smaller South Dakota communities and businesses that are already supportive, such as Kimball, in creating a "better career pathway for students," Smith said.

"We really need to learn about what works in South Dakota. We're seeing other states do efforts like this, and like many things, we can't just copy what they do and we have to make it workable for our state," Smith said.

Smith said more details about the initiative will be revealed by Gov. Daugaard in the State of the State address at 1 p.m. on Jan. 9.

And while the pilot program may be changed and revamped as the year continues, Smith said state officials are eager to begin.

"We're very excited," Smith said. "It really is a good partnership with the state and school districts."

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