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Muth VP of finance says more electricians needed

When the South Dakota Board of Education voted last week to allow Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls to create an electrician training program, one board member faced a dilemma.

That board member, Terry Sabers, of Mitchell, is also the the vice president of finance at Muth Electric and a 1975 graduate of Mitchell Technical Institute. With an interest in both the success of MTI -- which already has an electrician training program -- and increasing the number of trained electricians in the area, Sabers was met with a difficult decision.

Sabers voted in favor of the proposal to give Southeast Technical Institute an electrician training program, but said in an interview this week with The Daily Republic that he did so with some hesitation.

South Dakota's businesses, including Muth Electric, have often been hobbled in recent years by a shortage of skilled laborers, including electricians. Sabers said he hopes the addition of another will help attract more people into those types of industries.

"There are a lot of opportunities for young people in these technical trades," he said. "Somehow, we need to get the word out to all of them that they should be looking at two-year education."

Despite objections from MTI President Greg Von Wald, the board approved the request from Southeast Tech with a 6-1 vote.

Sabers said the hope is more students will be attracted to the electrician training programs because they're both being promoted by their schools.

"I think this will be a real test for any future applications for duplicate programs," he said. "Time will tell if it's successful or not."

Sabers said he is still concerned, despite his vote, that the duplicate program could mean fewer students for both programs.

That's the argument Von Wald made in an interview Monday with The Daily Republic.

"By duplicating programs, it costs the state more money," Von Wald said. "You're going to have more programs that aren't full."

The electrician training program at MTI is the school's largest program and can accommodate up to 144 students at a time, including both first- and second-year students, Von Wald said.

With about 25 percent of those students typically coming from the Sioux Falls area, Von Wald said he is sure the number of students in MTI's program will shrink as a result of Southeast Tech's program.

With this decision by the board, Von Wald said he worries other programs at MTI could be duplicated elsewhere in the future.

"My fear is this is just Pandora's box that got opened," he said.