South Dakota needs workforce growth to remain "open for business"

A conversation with Governor Dennis Daugaard


Dennis Daugaard is the 32nd Governor of South Dakota, elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014 by the largest margin in South Dakota history. As Governor, Daugaard has emphasized job creation, sound fiscal management and efficient government operation. While growing up on his family’s dairy farm, purchased by his grandparents in 1911 after they emigrated from Denmark, Daugaard attended a one-room country school near his home until the seventh grade. A graduate of USD and Northwestern University law school, Daugaard became involved in politics in 1996 when he was elected to the state Legislature. He served as lieutenant governor in the Mike Rounds administration in Pierre from 2002 through his election as governor.



WIN:  Why has the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation placed such a high priority on workforce development?


Governor Daugaard:  I have seen two interrelated workforce problems in South Dakota. First, from the perspective of businesses and employers, our state does not have enough workers in many skilled fields, which is a barrier to economic growth. We have companies that do not expand or that turn away business because they cannot hire enough qualified workers to do the work. Almost any business owner will identify workforce as a significant concern.


But we must also see this from the perspective of our young people. We want them to receive an education that allows them to find well paying, fulfilling jobs here in South Dakota. We have an excellent education system in South Dakota, but we must help all of our young people achieve this goal. 


It is clear that workforce must be addressed if South Dakota is going to remain “open for business.” We need strategies to address the skills gap that exists in our state. It is our responsibility to provide real time labor supply and demand data to help individuals make informed decisions on training and employment options. 


WIN:  Are there specific industries in South Dakota that have greater WFD needs?


GD:  Healthcare, business management, finance, information technology, skilled trades, education and engineering are all projected to have a higher than average annual demand for workers. These also have above average pay, so are considered hot careers. Healthcare, manufacturing and retail trade currently have the most job openings listed in the online SDWORKS database compared to all industries.


WIN:  Why is working with the educational community so important in growing the workforce in South Dakota?


GD:  The employment landscape has changed. Gone are the days when a high school diploma was enough to guarantee entry into the workforce. A few years ago, a Harvard University study, entitled Pathways to Prosperity, looked back to 1973. At that time, nearly three-quarters of jobs were held by workers with a high school diploma or less. A more recent study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education & Workforce found that today only 34 percent of jobs are filled by employees with a high school diploma or less. 


Training beyond high school is key to individual success. There are many paths—military, apprenticeship, technical school, college or university. Each path requires participation with the educational community to some degree. The educational community is a key partner and must be responsive to individual and employer needs.

We know from Census data that nearly 159,000 South Dakotans 18 and older have had some college, but no degree. We need educational systems that are flexible and available to non-traditional students. South Dakota has set a goal to increase state postsecondary attainment to 65 percent by 2025. Labor economists say 65 percent of all jobs will require some form of high-quality postsecondary credentials by the end of this decade.


WIN:  Workforce development efforts have increasingly been a public-private partnership. What initiatives are currently offering new successes in WFD?


GD:  South Dakota has taken several steps to improve the workforce challenge through an effort we are calling Career Launch. We are encouraging high schools to expand the availability of work-based education experiences, such as apprenticeships, internships or job shadowing during school. The best way for young people to find career fields they like—or don’t like—is to experience them. In addition, these experiences help our young people learn how to arrive on-time, dress appropriately for the job and interact with co-workers and customers.


Let me give you an example. In Yankton, many high school seniors plan their schedules so their traditional classes are compressed into a half-day—morning or afternoon. During the other half of the day, the student works at a paid internship with an employer in town. The student receives high school credit, is paid at least $11 an hour, gains exposure to a career field and learns “foundational skills.”


This is an 18-month pilot in Brookings, Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Yankton. Assigned personnel will help schools coordinate with employers to expand work-based learning experiences. They will also supplement a school’s career counseling services, so young people receive more information about career fields and education pathways. Career Launch was created to increase youth engagement in the workforce and to help youth make informed career decisions. Businesses are serving as partners in education by helping teach some career classes, providing guest presentations and serving as mentors in high schools.


This program provides businesses opportunities and methods to connect with youth to inform them of opportunities in their own community, and the state in general. Our goal is to replicate and spread it to other communities in the state. Really, any business can create work-based learning opportunities such as job shadows, on-the-job training, internships or apprenticeships. 

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