Integrating work skills into a school atmosphere

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Changes to the education system could be well on the way as Gov. Kristi Noem wants high school students to come away with more practical experience and that we need more apprenticeships.

Noem said more apprenticeships will shape the workforce of the future. To test that theory, we went to the cradle of the apprenticeship world: the blacksmith.

"Well that's just it. You can read a book all day long, but you can't pick up the subtle things that convey that craft to the student," blacksmith Jack Parks said.

Parks has apprenticed nearly 100 students in his time, including Aaron Fortier.

"When I was 18, I did an apprenticeship. It was the first of it's kind so we had to fill out an application with the state and be funded by a grant," School of Mines graduate Fortier said.

Blacksmithing was never part of a long term plan for Fortier, but when things didn't work out at one college, it opened new doors at another.

"When I was at state, I decided not to pursue their physics program and I thought 'what am I going to do?'," Fortier said. "I had known of the metallurgy program, didn't know what metallurgy even was. Really, I didn't have a basic concept of it but I understood that they had a program there and it was engineering and I thought well, I like to do blacksmithing and I think that is interesting maybe I can find some commonality."

"Now we are marrying the blacksmithing with the metallurgy at the School of Mines and it makes a symbiotic relationship that is well respected by the professors at the school," Parks said.

Fortier graduated this year from the School of Mines with a degree in metallurgical engineering - a new age degree, fueled by an old school pedagogy.

"What you learn when you're younger, really carries on for the rest of your life, you form an identity around. I think that hands on skills are invaluable," Fortier said.

Metallurgical engineers do everything from design the metal in computer chips to covering space shuttles with heat resistant alloys, so very much a cutting-edge industry.