SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — After the diploma, comes the real hard work.
And for many recent graduates, finding work hasn’t been too difficult. This week, Sioux Falls-based Southeast Technical College announced a 99% placement rate for Spring 2020 grads and Rapid City-based South Dakota School of Mines announced a 97% placement rate.
Southeast Tech’s two-year technical college placement rates include any type of employment post graduation, career services coordinator/student success advisor Paula Hawks said. Hawks pointed out Southeast Tech has a 100% placement for 31 of the school’s more than 60 education programs.
“Southeast Tech has a very focused mission in helping students get the education they need, as quickly as they can, get the skills they need and get out there and get to work,” Hawks told KELOLAND News.
South Dakota Mines’ four-year job placement rate is strictly recent graduates entering his or her respective field of study or graduate school.
Matthew Hanley, career and professional development center director for the School of Mines, said the COVID-19 pandemic caused some hardships but stressed the demand for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education remains high.
“Industry needed scientists and engineers with the ability to think outside the box and communicate their ideas effectively more than ever before,” said Hanley, who emphasized the importance of internships in higher education.
School of Mines reported 77% of students graduated with a paid internship or research experience and students who had at least one internship had a 100% placement rate with an average starting salary of $68,533.
“An internship is by far the most important aspect of your college experience,” Hanley said. “It shows employers you can take what you are learning inside the classroom and execute those concepts in real world citations. It also develops your professional skills.”
For Southeast Tech graduates, the average starting salary is $40,000. The technical college touts its cost of a two-year degree as roughly $17,796 compared to $73,115 for a South Dakota four-year public or private university degree.
“Southeast Tech has an incredible array of programs to choose from,” Hawks said. “We are an affordable option. You can come here and get your degree in two years and have a quarter of the debt you have from a four-year institution.”
Keeping graduates in South Dakota
There’s always an emphasis on keeping recent South Dakota higher education graduates working in the state. Both Southeast Tech and South Dakota Mines were pleased with in-state job placement rates.
“Southeast Tech provides an excellent education for our students,” Hawks said. “We have a great student success program at Southeast Tech. We do a great job of working with our students and helping them find jobs, helping them prepare for job interviews and getting their resumes ready.”
For Southeast Tech, 88% of recent graduates stayed in South Dakota one year after graduation. Growth in the Build Dakota Scholarship, which allows a full-ride scholarship for a student who stays and works for at least three years after graduation, has played a role in keeping some more students in the state. There were 95 students with Build Dakota Scholarships in the sixth year of the scholarship.
Hawks called the Build Dakota scholarship an “incredible program.”
“It’s a phenomenal way to build the workforce here in South Dakota,” Hawks said. “Industry leaders, in particular, recognize that if they invest in those students and they give those students an opportunity to have a job waiting for them when they graduate, they’ll get their return on the investment in spades.”
South Dakota Mines said graduates have been employed in 50 different South Dakota based companies. While the number of graduates staying in the Rushmore State is 36%, Hanley highlighted that those graduates continue to play a vital role in the continuing growth of the state’s high-tech sector.
“36% is really good and we’ve seen that number increase over the years,” Hanley said. “South Dakota is doing a lot of good things trying to develop industry, science, technology and engineering jobs.”
One of those examples, Hanley said, is the Ascent Innovation building, run by Elevate Rapid City to target tech-based economic and workforce development.
Keeping recent grads, new employees happy
Both Hawks and Hanley emphasized the important role of both higher education schools listening to the needs of area industries and businesses.
At South Dakota Mines, Hanley said the school has an industry advisor board and an office of industry engagement.
Hanley once again pointed to the importance of internships to help both students and possible employers find the best fit.
“If we aren’t listening to our industry partners and what they are telling us they need, we’re not doing our job with training and developing our students,” Hanley said.
Hawks said teachers like to keep in touch with employers and recent graduated students. She added they quickly find out what employers are making a “good impression” on graduates and added there’s high demand for some very specific skilled workers like commercial truck drivers, nursing, welding and plumbing.
“The biggest complaint I get from employers is that we are not putting out enough graduates,” Hawks said. “We have a capacity at Southeast Tech and we can only put out so many students per year but they’re waiting for those students. They’re clamoring for them. They’re asking us to expand our program so that we can put out more graduates. That alone, is a sign to us that we’re doing exactly what industry is asking us to do.”