Ask someone what one of the top priorities should be for Bismarck’s lawmakers and it’ll likely be creating good-paying jobs in our communities, so they prosper and grow stronger. Ask almost any business in North Dakota what is one of their greatest challenges and they’ll likely say how hard it is to find skilled, qualified workers.
Often called the workforce shortage, it is a challenge for businesses of every size in nearly every industry. Bridging the skills gap is a key focus of Microsoft TechSpark, our initiative to foster economic opportunities here in North Dakota, by increasing access to computer science education, digital skills and providing career pathways to employers.
Luckily a new law championed by Rep. Jim Grueneich, R-Jamestown, House Bill 1171, will make it possible for more of our students to get the skills needed for good-paying jobs created by employers here in our state.
Grueneich’s bill, now signed into law, creates a skilled workforce scholarship and student loan repayment program for students to pursue high-demand fields if they stay in North Dakota after graduation. It’s funded by $6 million of Bank of North Dakota profits which must be matched one-for-one from the private sector to ensure this workforce investment can make the biggest impact possible.
Programs like these have a proven track record of success. A similar program started in Washington state in 2011 is on track to serve 16,000 students by 2025. Students who participated in the programs have then taken the skills and knowledge they’ve gained and reinvested them in their communities.
In fact, the vast majority (81%) of them still live in Washington, and over half still live in or near their hometown.
A highly skilled workforce will also help attract new industries that grow our economy, something we have already seen with the unmanned autonomous aircraft (UAS) industry. Thanks to Grueneich and his colleagues in the Legislature, students, businesses and our state all stand to benefit from this smart investment to fill high demand jobs with educated talent who are committed to living and working in North Dakota.