South Dakota’s large cities are not alone in facing workforce challenges—smaller communities also struggle with talent recruitment and building the partnerships that drive workforce development success.
At the recent WIN in Workforce Summit, held in Sioux Falls August 23, Amy Miller, Assistant Principal and Student Services Director at Webster Area High School, presented a breakout session with the intriguing title “...but I live in a small town.”
Miller shared with a full house of interested participants the successes Webster has achieved in building a growing talent pool in Day County. With the school as the driving force, Miller and her colleagues have energized the community around the idea of workforce development and community growth. But Miller stressed that there are other community forces that can provide the spark.
“The school may not be the catalyst your town needs,” Miller said. “It may be a career education teacher, a parent or a local business. In our community, a new generation of leadership at our biggest employer, Webster Scale, realized that their best employees were the people they went to high school with. Connecting with the school made sense.”
With a population of 2,000, Webster has several growing manufacturing companies, a Sanford Health medical campus, several banks and a strong retail environment. The community realized years ago that in order to enhance the quality of life and develop economically, jobs—and the people to fill those jobs—had to be a priority. A community assessment was organized, with workforce development a key component.
“The brainstorming process highlighted goals that included expanding career interest in high school students,” Miller said. “We also realized we needed to form partnerships with local businesses to help students understand the opportunities available to them.”
Those opportunities include jobs at local businesses, and entrepreneurial ideas to help those students be part of the future of Webster. Miller said bringing the business community into the conversation was essential in creating a program to address talent pool growth and recruitment.
“Our business partnerships have led to internships, grant opportunities, scholarships and so much more,” she said. “We have new advisory board members, corporate donations and effective partnerships across the community.”
Planning for success means having a vision before seeking grants or building programs, Miller said.
“It was so important for us to bring people together and energize them toward a shared vision—a better way to see our community,” she said. “We found it was critical to gather your data before you need it and let it be your guide.
In the Webster area, that data included demographics, regional industry needs, local and state wages and student populations and interest. Webster found partnerships with regional utilities, technical institutes and industries and sponsored workforce summits, career days and community celebrations to strengthen the information flow and the links among the partners.
“By bringing local chambers of commerce, schools, economic development groups and interested companies together,” Miller said, “you can get the conversation started. You need someone to bring your team together, but if your goals are established early and you celebrate your successes, every community can make a difference for its students and its businesses.”
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