How can the Mitchell area fill 890 job openings with 410 candidates? MADC’s workforce summit aims to help

Data from the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation estimates unemployment in Davison County is at 2.6%

Shane Thill, director of Second Chance Alternative High School and assistant principal of Mitchell High School, speaks about Career & Technical Education programs high school students are interested in during the Workforce Solutions Summit on Wednesday at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Everyone in Mitchell is hiring, but nobody is applying, businesses in the Palace City say.

According to a survey conducted by the Mitchell Area Development Corporation , 90% of businesses polled said their biggest struggle was getting potential candidates to apply. Over 50% said their next biggest challenge was getting employees to regularly show up on time and to offer employees a good benefit package.

To help resolve some issues local businesses face amid a nationwide workforce shortage, the Mitchell Area Development Corporation hosted a workforce solutions summit to help businesses plan how to address workforce problems while connecting them to resources.

Wednesday’s event at the Corn Palace saw over 60 representatives from area businesses gather for the summit, which kicked off with Mike Henke, a recruiting and training consultant from Nebraska, explaining that the workforce is out there, but businesses must find fresh practices to convert into applications.

“There’s job offers everywhere. Everyone in Mitchell is applying and everyone in Mitchell is hiring,” Henke said. “(Job seekers) are applying to multiple places. We need to move along fast in our process — check applications daily.”


Henke believes job-search engines make it easier than ever to apply for multiple jobs, and businesses need to jump on applications they receive.

“With sites like Indeed, it’s become so easy to just click and apply here and apply there. Is someone really going to show up for all of those interviews,” Henke asked. “If (an applicant) can come in today, do it today. That’s where we need to schedule and how fast we need to move.”

With workers applying to multiple businesses at once, mentalities like “hire slow, fire fast” should actually be inverted, Henke said, in order to bring in new employees.

Companies can also institute a variety of programs to increase a company’s retention — both focused on new hires and longtime employees.

“People say there’s not enough people in Mitchell. I ask how many people have left the company. 17? Well, what if six of those 17 were still here,” Henke asked.

Henke advocated for engaging onboarding and immediate paid time off handouts for new hires, and encouraged referral bonuses and an excellent company culture for longtime employees.

Devon Bartscher, manager of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation office in Mitchell, estimated that unemployment in the Mitchell area is around 2.6% — just under the state average of 2.9%.

“We have about 410 candidates for 890 job openings in the Mitchell area,” Bartscher said. “There are less people than there are job openings. That statistic is stunning, especially thinking about where we've been in the past.”


School officials with Mitchell Technical College (MTC) and the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy (MCTEA) say businesses could look to work with students to secure longer-term employment.

Mike Henke speaks during the Workforce Solutions Summit on Wednesday at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Shane Thill, director of Second Chance Alternative High School and assistant principal of Mitchell High School, said students at MCTEA are offered a wide variety of industry-specific courses that help connect them to MTC and other local businesses.

“We see hundreds of students move through our programs each year, and we see quite a few staying in Mitchell,” Thill said.

Job opportunities in the community is a topic constantly shared with students, according to Thill, in an effort to help students secure jobs in Mitchell.

“I think it's a hidden secret in Mitchell that we’re spoiled, because not every AA school has a CTE academy. The things that our students are able to do in our district and connect through MTC is amazing,” Thill said.

Clayton Deuter, vice president of enrollment services at MTC, said the technical college’s connection to both students and businesses helps make recruitment from within city limits much more practical.


“There are some easy ways for businesses to connect with students,” Deuter said. “(Businesses) being involved with high school students and getting a student exposed to what their career options could be will help drive them to go to school.”

Partnerships between the Build Dakota and the Double Edge scholarships build connections by committing students to stay in-state and with a sponsoring company for a period of time after graduation.

Each of the scholarships are specific to high-demand industries, such as construction, health and manufacturing fields.

Changing tactics: Mitchell leaders using QR codes to advertise jobs inside Corn Palace

“The majority of our scholarships are tied to industry partners. It’s for South Dakota and South Dakota companies in those high need areas,” Deuter said. “If you enter an industry partnership, those students are not only staying in South Dakota, but also staying in your company.”

Nearly 90% of students who receive these scholarships successfully complete their obligations — those who don’t are required to pay back the scholarships. Deuter says when the employment commitment ends, those who leave are typically newlyweds looking to start their life elsewhere.

If businesses truly can’t fill their workforce locally, other programs exist to advertise to out-of-state residents who may be interested in relocating.

“We did receive some grant money for marketing. The idea is you have to market outside of South Dakota and for jobs that are $20 or more per hour,” said Karen Whitney, regional workforce coordinator with the MADC. “We have a limited number of workers, and there are people that want to move to South Dakota.”

Other speakers at the summit included Darwyn Persson of AKG, who spoke about maintaining workplace culture; Brenda Blumenberg with Cornerstones, who explained the value of job coaching and life skills training; Jill Beaton of LifeQuest, who explained some tax programs to help businesses recruit high-risk candidates; and Fredel Thomas, who informed businesses of opportunities to work with students at Dakota Wesleyan.

Any business who may need additional resources for recruiting is encouraged to contact the MADC or the Department of Labor and Regulation office in Mitchell.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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