Mike Cartney: Making “HIRE” Education Work

The Coming Changes to America’s Workforce Demographics

Projections indicate that by 2030, only about 10% of the US positions will require a HS diploma. What’s the change? Technology. Of the 11.6 million jobs created since the last recession, only about 80,000 could be filled by someone holding a HS diploma. Technology is driving the unprecedented growth in jobs requiring post-secondary education short of a baccalaureate degree.

The demographics of the workforce is changing dramatically. Employment opportunity for those with only a HS diploma is quickly disappearing. Positions requiring a baccalaureate or higher degree continue to grow, but entry level positons that require post-secondary education short of a baccalaureate are exploding.

graph of education levels for jobs (1973, US)

graph of education for jobs, 2016 (US)









In South Dakota and across the nation, key industries do not have enough technically skilled employees to fill the workforce needs. Only 49% of the SD’s workers hold post-secondary credentials, and far less possess technical skills. South Dakota businesses are turning down contracts, foregoing expansion, and curtailing production because they cannot find technically skilled employees.

Solving South Dakota’s workforce needs (and those throughout America) will require innovative uses of technology and employees. Embracing technology to solve production and quality issues does not change the quantity of workers needed. What it does change is the skills needed and types of positions held by employees in the workplace.

Assessing and Changing the Educational Landscape

The governors of South Dakota and Colorado independently commissioned studies on what happens if you start with 100 ninth graders and follow them for six years. The results are very similar, and reveal that less than 25% complete a baccalaureate degree, even though 90% of ninth graders cite that as their goal.

educational attainment graph, Colorado

educational attainment graph, South Dakota










For many, the resulting question is how do we raise the number of earning a baccalaureate degree, but the real question is “What are you doing for the other 77%+ of students who dropped off the chart?” That is the focus of HIRE education.

The HIRE Education System in South Dakota

Just last year (2017), South Dakotans amended their state constitution to recognize Technical Education as the third of three forms of education: traditional K12 system, traditional higher education, and what I like to refer to as “HIRE” (that’s H I R E ) technical education system.

The Technical Education system is focused on enabling South Dakota’s economic development by growing our technical skilled workforce. South Dakota could quadruple our welding, electrician and licensed practical nursing program capacities today and still not fill the openings just in our state. These scenarios are repeated across the nation in every state, predominately in the manufacturing, energy, healthcare, aerospace, and transportation industries.

We need innovative approaches, partnerships, and solutions to make progress.

Innovative approaches: Although Lake Area Tech is student focused, it is industry/community facing, meaning it gets its strategic cues and defines success based upon the community it supports. Lake Area Tech views college as pathway, not a destination, so we redefined success as job placement, not graduation. This makes college more relevant and meaningful for students. And Lake Area Tech knows for more than 40% of our students, college is the road out of poverty, so we focus on keeping college affordable.  Therefore, a road that was previously perceived as less travelled, now seems achievable and a journey worth taking.

Innovative partnerships: South Dakota’s Technical Institutes have partnered with Industry, communities, and State Government to take on our skills gap head on. Over 300 businesses work with Lake Area Tech’s program staff and students to provide a coherent and relevant educational experience that support our state’s workforce demands. These businesses consult and oversee curriculum, provide internships and on-the-job experience for students, provide industry standard training aides and equipment for the students to learn with, mentor our students, and most importantly they hire our students. In short, they are heavily invested in their pipeline.

Innovative solutions: Through the vision and generosity of T. Denny Sanford and Governor Dennis Daugaard, students receive full ride scholarships to South Dakota’s technical institutes in return for staying to work in South Dakota. Lake Area Tech’s “Stretch-the-Million” program leveraged these funds with industry providing 50% more scholarships to students willing to work for a specific employer at graduation. But the impact of the Build Dakota Scholarship reaches beyond just those students receiving scholarships. The exposure and informational aspects of Build Dakota enabled the state’s public two-year technical institutes to grow when nationally 2-year enrollment declined by 10%.


The need and value of four-year degrees is not waning, and will remain above 30% of our workforce.  Jobs that can be accomplished with a high school diploma are changing rapidly, dropping to 10% by 2030.  The result is a widening gap between the jobs available and the skilled workforce to fill those jobs. In 2030, up to 60% of our jobs will require post-secondary education short of a baccalaureate.

It’s time for HIRE Education.

Mike Cartney, a retired Air Force Colonel, is President of Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown SD, the 2017 recipient of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Located in Watertown, SD, Lake Area Technical Institute is a public, two-year technical college with a student population nearly 2,500 and offering 29 career focused programs. Lake Area Tech’s work in student success and advocating the value of community colleges has been acknowledged on International Public Radio’s Take Away series, Kentucky Public TV’s Dropping Back In Series, The White House’s Champions of Change summits, Forbes, New York Times and TIME Magazine. The college was one of four colleges featured in the Aspen Institute’s publication “Structural Equity: Big-Picture Thinking & Partnerships That Improve Community College Student Outcomes. President Cartney’s testimony to the US Senate Commerce committee can be found here.

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