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September 04, 2014 10:00 PM

Worker Shortage Solutions

Aberdeen, SD

If you've driven through any number of KELOLAND communities, you've probably noticed Help Wanted signs.

With a growing number of jobs and low unemployment, state leaders are looking for solutions to a worker shortage. The governor and other state leaders toured the state, holding workforce summits in six communities earlier this year.

A report from the summits came out this week.

In South Dakota there is about one job seeker to every available position. Even if each of those people had the skills needed to fill each open position, there wouldn’t be room for growth Governor Dennis Daugaard says.

"It just means our workforce issues are even more difficult because of that," Daugaard said.

That’s one reason the governor has been traveling the state this week, telling community members it's going to take a group effort to find solutions.

According to the Workforce Summits Final Report, the state needs to have enough people with the right skills to fill jobs. Employers need more ways to attract and retain new employees. Students and job seekers need to know what jobs are available and what training is required for those jobs.

"If they don't understand what it takes to train themselves, they go off on paths, academic paths that don't lead to work, that lead to poor opportunity," Daugaard said.

The report also says educators are critical to developing workforce.

Based on ideas from South Dakotans, a consultant and examples from other states, the report outlines different strategies communities can use to address workforce needs.

"I don't want the report to just sit on a shelf. That's no good. We really need it to be a springboard for action. We need to act and there are things both the state and local communities can do," Daugaard said.

State leaders are asking multiples parties within South Dakota communities to come together and develop a solution that will work locally.

"Not just ideas but a concrete plan. Here is a strategy we would like to try in Aberdeen. These are the partners. Here's how we'd like to implement it. Here is the assistance we'd need from the state to make that happen," South Dakota Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman said.

Money designated for economic development is available to help communities put those plans in place. As an employer in Aberdeen, Molded Fiberglass general manager Dave Giovannini says a local plan is needed.

"Still a lot of open positions in the community, still at times a struggle to find the right folks to do the jobs that need to be done," Giovannini said.

In Pierre, Mayor Laurie Gill says the city expects expanding and new businesses. She doesn't want a worker shortage to stand in the way of growth. She plans to assemble a team to address the issue.

"Work with the folks that we have working in economic development and education, business, community to come together with government, talk about what we can do to come in and present a plan to the state," Gill said.

The governor says educators need to play a big role in preparing students for available jobs and pointing them to those jobs. Aberdeen Superintendent Becky Guffin says she looks forward to the education sector meeting that need.

"I don't think we'd have to add more staff per se. It would just be a matter of us re-prioritizing and having those conversations that maybe we haven't had in the past," Guffin said.

That said, Guffin is still waiting to see if strategies implemented will fill workforce needs within education.

"We certainly hope we're part of that conversation. We certainly have a workforce shortage in education as well, so we're hopeful that will be part of the continued conversation," Guffin said.

Using education as an example, Sen. Chuck Welke, (D) Warner, says the conversation needs to expand.

"I'm very happy that the governor is looking at the workforce and the issues that we have. We need to draw people to South Dakota. My question would be, nothing has been said about wages and wages are a big factor in terms of getting people into South Dakota. We need to have high paying jobs," Welke said.

The retired educator says he supports a K-12 education funding increase and a minimum wage increase.

As different plans come to Pierre, state leaders say the time to act is now. Still, the governor says addressing South Dakota's workforce challenges is a marathon, not a sprint.

Communities will start sharing plans with a committee in Pierre in December.

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