Governor proposes MTI welding programPlan is part of broader workforce development initiative.
By: CHRIS HUBER and ROSS DOLAN, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — Saying the state “does not have enough welders,” Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced a proposed welding program at Mitchell Technical Institute.
The proposal is part of a larger workforce initiative Daugaard introduced Tuesday during his State of the State speech, which kicked of this year’s legislative session at the Capitol in Pierre.
South Dakota WINS is a four-category, 20-point plan proposed by Daugaard and his staff to get more people in South Dakota trained and ready to work in “a rapidly growing and changing South Dakota economy.”
The goal of adding 1,000 new skilled trade workers in South Dakota would equal around $120 million added to the gross state product, Daugaard said.
The proposed MTI welding program falls under the “training for skilled jobs” category of the initiative.
“Our technical institutes produce graduates that our state needs,” Daugaard said, “and I want to see technical training in South Dakota expanded.”
Daugaard also called for expanding the welding program at the correctional facility in Springfield.
MTI President Greg Von Wald said he is excited about the possibility of reviving the welding program at his school, but doing so will be expensive.
“It sounds like we’re going to get some help,” he said Tuesday after hearing Daugaard’s speech.
Von Wald said he was given a heads-up that Daugaard might mention MTI and the state’s welding needs, but Von Wald said he has received no concrete numbers on how much financial support the state will contribute to re-establishing the program.
The funds would probably be Community Development Block Grant aid through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, he said.
“I don’t know what they plan to contribute, but I hope it’s a hefty sum,” he said.
MTI’s welding program was curtailed in the early 1990s, he said, and reviving it could cost at least $500,000.
MTI trains some students in basic welding as part of its agriculture and power sports programs, and it has also supplied limited training for individual companies, but a full-on welding program would be more involved. The two-year program would offer students the option of leaving after one year of training with a diploma, or continuing and completing more extensive manufacturing training the second year and earning an associate’s degree.
“We can train 24 to 36 students a year,” Von Wald said, noting that number only scratches the surface for pent-up demand for welding talent.
“How many could I place? More than I can train,” he said. “The demand is incredible.”
Von Wald said 250 welders could be placed immediately at various manufacturing facilities from Mitchell to Huron.
One of his concerns is the area’s history of manufacturing layoffs, which could make it difficult to convince students to invest in training.
“But this is all great stuff, and it’s exciting,” he said. “The governor has set the big vision, but it’s up to the yeomen to make it work.”
District 20 state Rep. Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell, said she was impressed by Daugaard’s proposals.
“I am really excited about how forward-thinking and bold the governor is,” she said. “He wants to work jointly with business to bring people into this state. We have to do both — we have train our own, but we also have to go find people to work in this state.”
District 20 state Sen. Lance Carson, R-Mitchell, agreed that the welding program would be a boost for Mitchell and the region.
“The governor said it would cost somewhere around $5 million to bring in those 1,000 skilled jobs to South Dakota, but they will bring in $120 million for the state,” Carson said. “I will trade anyone $5 million for $120 million right now.”
District 20 state Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said the welding program would be a positive for the Mitchell region and state, but it would be expensive.
Because welding has advanced so much technologically in recent years, Vehle said, quality education is needed to keep up with workforce demands.
“It isn’t just going out there with your helmet and welding anymore,” Vehle said. “These people need to know some pretty specific technology to be a welder, and I think a program at MTI would help.”
To read more about South Dakota WINS, visit www.southdakotawins.com.