Workforce summits call state to reach workers in, out of SD
By Nora Hertel
PIERRE — Gov. Dennis Daugaard held his last in a series of workforce summits this week, gathering ideas on what the state can do, if anything, to address a shortage of qualifi ed workers.
The Republican met with business and education leaders in Mitchell, Watertown, Brookings, Rapid City, Aberdeen and Sioux Falls between April and June.
“The private sector has shown tremendous interest in taking a seat at the table,” said Dusty Johnson, the governor’s chief of staff, who attended some of the summits and helped plan them.
The effort cost the state an estimated $130,000. It’s one of several state programs promoting economic development and responding to the worker shortage. The state especially needs welders, accountants, as well as information technology and health care professionals, Johnson said.
Some businesses have talked to Daugaard about their desire to expand here, he said, but the lack of skilled workers makes them hesitate. Kelly Weaver, the regional director for the Small Business Development Center in Aberdeen, has heard the same thing. She attended the summit in her city.
Weaver said the state offers programs to support various sizes of businesses, but the onus falls on people in the industry.
“I’m not sure there’s a whole lot the state can do for any one business,” Weaver said. “That’s the challenge with this issue. It’s not that simple.”
Small businesses were not as well represented as larger ones, but they all struggle to attract enough skilled workers, she said.
Small business owners have some additional challenges, including less visibility, weaker benefi ts and no human resources support as compared with big companies, Weaver said.
Chris Haar with the Aberdeen Development Corp. also attended the summit and appreciated seeing the governor in the city, looking into the issue.
“We’re really looking forward to what they come out of that with,” Haar said.
Johnson said the state can help improve the skills of some untapped labor pools in the state through education and training for younger, older and disabled people.
“We need to get even more creative and even more aggressive in reaching out to these groups,” he said.
Additionally, the state will need to look outside its borders to augment the workforce, Johnson said. The state might have to draw workers from farther than 200 miles away because the unemployment rate is so low in the immediate area, Haar said.
The state already offers a program called Dakota Roots, which tries to attract out-of-staters with promising careers. Johnson said the state can do more to promote the local lifestyle.
“We also need to tell South Dakota’s story so more people will move here,” he said.
Weaver said that once those people arrive, it’s important to integrate new workers into their communities, so they stay in the local workforce.
The governor’s office will produce a report on the summits in the next few months.