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Daugaard highlights worker shortage

Gov. Dennis Daugaard speaks to regional business leaders Tuesday at Mitchell Technical Institute during a workforce summit. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Gov. Dennis Daugaard said he is optimistic South Dakota will be able to attract new workers for skilled labor positions and reverse the state's workforce shortage.

"Nothing replaces the value of hard work," Daugaard said. "That's one thing South Dakotans typically aren't afraid of."

The governor was a featured speaker Tuesday during a regional workforce summit at Mitchell Technical Institute's south campus. The summit was hosted by officials from Mitchell, Yankton and the District III Planning Region to highlight workforce needs in the James River Valley. Following Daugaard's morning speech, sessions were held throughout the day, at which various businesspeople and experts discussed ways to meet workforce challenges.

Speaking to about 200 members of the regional business community, Daugaard explained the detriments of South Dakota's workforce shortage.

The biggest holdup for businesses that want to expand is a lack of skilled workers, Daugaard said. He then quoted statistics that showed about a quarter of the approximately 10,000 job openings listed with the South Dakota Department of Labor are skilled-labor positions.

"I've been wondering -- have we become a society that only values a certain kind of work?" Daugaard said.

He said the jobs students are being trained for in school no longer match the jobs available when they graduate.

"Education needs to be more relevant," he said. "Technological training can't be seen as a consolation prize."

The governor stressed how negative perceptions of skilled-labor jobs need to change before South Dakota's businesses can grow.

"We need to make sure every South Dakotan knows where the jobs are," Daugaard said. "We need to make sure every South Dakotan, especially our young people, know what these jobs are like."

Daugaard hopes the state-sponsored Dakota Roots program, an online job-recruitment program designed to bring former residents back to South Dakota by matching them with an in-state job that fits their qualifications, will be another tool businesses can use to develop their workforce.

As of October 2010, 1,610 people had found a job using Dakota Roots. The program has been in existence since 2007.

Plans to run a marketing campaign for Dakota Roots with hopes to attract those returning to South Dakota for the upcoming holidays are already set, said Daugaard.

Giving South Dakota's young people a reason to stay after completing school is equally as important as attracting new workers, Daugaard said.

"Through education and training, we have to keep our high school graduates in South Dakota," he said.

Daugaard cited South Dakota's low tax rates and low cost-of-living as reasons for potential workers to stay.

"It's important we all understand what an advantage we have," he said.

The governor reported that South Dakota's workforce grew in 13 of the last 14 months but remains short of pre-recession levels by about 5,000 workers.

As of September, South Dakota had the nation's third lowest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate at 4.6 percent.

"We haven't recovered yet, but we are recovering," Daugaard said.