(Fargo, ND) -- A Cass County program is finding ways to bring high school students immediately into the workforce after they graduate.
Several schools in the Fargo district; like North, South, and Davies, and some in West Fargo Public Schools; like West Fargo High, Horace, Central Cass and Sheyenne, all have CTE Pathway programs. The programs allow students to learn necessary skills for high-demand fields like construction in classes starting in the 9th grade. Construction tech, Woods I and Woods II, Building Trades I and Building Trades II are all available for students interested in jumping into a career right out of high school.
"Many of our students in our urban areas, they maybe take the class first and they they have an opportunity to work," said Dr. Denise Jonas, The CTE Director of the Cass County Career & Technical Education Consortium, "[We are] working with the home builders association and many of our local contractors that have an apprenticeship program. They really do want to partner with our high school programs because of the gap we have right now with skilled employees."
That gap is attributed largely to a workforce shortage in North Dakota. As recently as August 16th, 2023, the state had 40,000 job vacancies across the board, but the state also had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire United States. Preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows North Dakota has an estimated 1.9% unemployment rate. With North Dakota's July 1st, 2022 population count showing 779,261 people living in the state, that would mean 7,943 people would be are currently unemployed, a stark difference between the total number of open jobs and the number of people to fill them.
The workforce needs are clear to many in the state, but training the next generation of carpenters and trades-people is also facing its own constraints. Dr. Jonas says its hard to hire people currently in the midst of their careers to teach at Cass County high schools because of the large pay difference between the trades and in education. She says it takes a specific kind of person who wants to take their expertise in construction and bring it to a classroom setting.