Teen workers help meet SD workforce demands, unemployment dips below pre-pandemic levels

“Youth who seek those opportunities to gain work experience and acquire skills become increasingly valuable to the state’s employers over the longer term,” said Marcia Hultman, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation.

Mitchell High School senior Alayna Keckler balances her part time job at Scooter's Coffee with school and other extracurricular activities. Submitted photo

MITCHELL — For Alayna Keckler, balancing work and school is something she’s been tasked with for years.

A senior at Mitchell High School, Keckler works part-time while going to school. When she’s not going to classes, taking part in choir or other school-related activities, she’s likely working a shift at Scooter’s Coffee.

Keckler said having a little financial independence was one of the reasons she has been part of the workforce while still in school.

“I just really enjoy having my own money and not having to depend on my parents that way,” Keckler said. “And it gave me something to do outside of school.”

The senior said there are challenges to being a working student. Time management and organization are important to make sure her working hours don’t interfere with the hours she puts toward homework and other school activities.


“There are definitely some challenges that come with it. I have to work a little harder to find time to do school work, especially since I work during my open hours. Other than that, I do pretty well managing time, but I’m up a little later at night,” Keckler said.

While the employment gap between prime age workers and teen workers continues to increase, that gap tends to follow the same ebb and flow of decreasing and increasing employment numbers.

While Keckler said she couldn’t be sure just how many of her fellow students at Mitchell High School also hold some form of part-time employment, she said it seemed that more students were working today than were just a few years ago.

Joe Childs, principal of Mitchell High School, agreed. While the school doesn’t keep track of which students do or don’t hold jobs, he knows that there are a great many that do head out to work when school is out. Especially the older students.

“I couldn’t tell you if it’s been more or less (working in recent years), but I would say it is pretty high. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a senior that was bored after school,” Childs said.

Unemployment lower than pre-pandemic rates

Preliminary data from the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation (SDDLR) shows the state’s unemployment rate through November is actually lower than before the pandemic. Last month’s 2.7% unemployment rate is the lowest South Dakota has seen since April 2008.

On a local level, Davison County currently stands at 1.8%, joined by Aurora, Douglas, Hutchinson and 14 other counties across the state with rates below 2%.


The unemployment rate in South Dakota counties ranged from 1.6% to 6.1% in November 2021. Graphic courtesy of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation

SDDLR Secretary Marcia Hultman said those numbers are a sign of recovery in the state.

“These data indicate South Dakota’s workforce has recovered from the pandemic, but many South Dakota employers continue to face worker shortages and skill demand/supply imbalances which began before the pandemic,” Hultman told the Mitchell Republic in an emailed statement.

While not all teens hold the skills to fulfill all the job openings in the Mitchell area, Hultman said young workers, aged 16 to 24, are big contributors to today's workforce.

“Young workers play a vital role in meeting South Dakota workforce demands, especially in entry-level positions and in certain industries with the greatest need for workers,” Hultman said.

In fact, South Dakota has a high rate of young workers in comparison to most states.

“Youth in South Dakota are also very active labor force participants. In 2020, 64.6% of the state’s young population were in the labor force, compared to the national rate of 53.9%,” Hultman said. “Although more recent data on youth participation is not yet available, anecdotally, we’ve heard and seen indications more South Dakota youth are engaging in the workforce.”

Hultman pointed out that though the labor force across all ages has been slowly declining in South Dakota for approximately the past decade, the state’s youth can become more valuable to future employers by getting their first jobs while they're still young.


“Youth who seek those opportunities to gain work experience and acquire skills become increasingly valuable to the state’s employers over the longer term,” she concluded.

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 local news in Sioux Falls. He also writes regional news spanning across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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