SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Commencement for South Dakota Board of Regents universities will take place on Saturday, May 7, and for many, this will mark the beginning of their first journey into the job market as they seek their first post-college job.

In South Dakota, those graduates will be entering a market in which there are more jobs than there are people to fill them. In a phone interview with KELOLAND News, South Dakota Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Marcia Hultman pointed out that there are currently more than 32,000 job openings in South Dakota, which currently enjoys an unemployment rate of just 2.5% according to Hultman.

This means that of the 472,700 strong labor eligible people in South Dakota, a mere 11,600 are not working, for a range of reasons. If each of these people were able to find and maintain a job, the state would still have around 20,400 unfilled positions.

Hultman says this lack of people to fill the positions is a point of concern but also calls it “the best problem to have,” saying that it highlights the importance of making sure South Dakotans have the option to get the training and resources they need and to ensure accessibility to jobs across the state.

This sort of training can be found at local Job Service Offices, or online where people can find things such as soft skills training and job searching workshops.

“I can tell you our job market is the strongest we’ve ever seen it,” said Hultman. “We have a record amount of job openings across all sectors.”

For an idea of how much the need for employees has risen, Hultman says that the state used to have somewhere in the range of 19-20,000 open jobs. That’s around a 60% increase in openings.

“The high-demand areas — and this bodes well for our graduates from universities and technical colleges — [are] in healthcare, social assistance, manufacturing, education,” listed Hultman.

Currently, South Dakota is 31st in the nation in terms of median household income, behind every bordering state, aside from Montana. However, Hultman says the demand for workers in South Dakota is changing that.

“Wages are increasing in South Dakota — they’re very competitive,” Hultman said. This statement was also added to by Ian Fury with the governor’s office, who cited U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data showing that South Dakota was among the states with the highest rate of personal income growth.

“Based on the demand for workers and the variety of jobs that are open,” said Hultman, “I think it would be a great time to complete that degree and begin looking for your first job.”

That’s a view seconded by Jin Kim, Director of the Office of Career Development at Black Hills State University.

Kim says that demand for graduates is up across the board and that in some fields such as education, districts have come calling to BHSU from as far afield as Alaska, looking for graduates. “[That competition] is also making local employers be more competitive, which is also keeping [students] in the state,” he said.

The job market for those entering the workforce, says Kim, is full of options. “Something that has happened is that students are now realizing that they don’t always have to be in a physical office,” he said.

This remote work environment, while beneficial in some ways, can also be a double-edged sword says Deb Roach, VP for Human Resources and Director for Career and Professional Development at Dakota State University.

“There’s pros and cons to that,” said Roach, discussing remote positions. “For a person living in South Dakota, it’s opened up a world that we wouldn’t normally have. We can work now for a California or New York company and not have to live there — that’s the benefit of it.”

In terms of the drawbacks, Roach cites concern over the loss of interpersonal development. “Especially out of college, that first job is a really exciting time to meet people and to learn things,” she said. “You learn so much from your on-the-job mentors and co-workers, and when you’re doing it in your living room — I think that you lose some of that.”

Roach also notes that the benefits of remote work also can include reduced costs for the employers, as well as benefits to South Dakota, as residents working out of South Dakota will still spend their money in communities within the state.

Like Hultman and Kim, Roach also agrees that the abundance of open positions in South Dakota can be a boon to graduates seeking a job, especially in the field of education.

“What I’m seeing is kind of a mix,” Roach said. “I’m seeing those students [in programs such as cybersecurity] that know a master’s degree is going to result immediately in higher wages — and then I’m seeing our students who are in some of those more traditional programs like education — who are ready to go out into the workforce.”

At a time when so many employers are offering incentives such as signing bonuses and increased wages, Roach points out that it makes sense for graduates looking to enter education to nail down a promising job now while the market is hot, and then work at getting their graduate degree while they work in education.

“We talk to them about going to get that job to get you started, and then if you want to pursue your education — see if there’s a way in which you can have some tuition reimbursement,” Roach said, noting that DSU’s education graduate program is set up to work for people who are already in the workforce.

While there may be less competition for certain jobs due to the number of openings, Roach warns that applicants still need to be prepared. “Even though there are a lot of jobs out there, the employers aren’t lowering their standards.”

In the field of public education, much in the way of wages comes down to state budgeting. In the private sector, however, it is up to business owners themselves to figure out how to incentivize new employees. Hultman says raised wages are a big part of that.

“I think it’s a willingness and a necessity,” Hultman said. “The fact that our job market is so competitive definitely impacts wages that are being paid by the employer.”

While the time seems ripe for graduates to launch into the highest paying career they can find, Roach warns against the idea of simply pursuing the highest paycheck.

“People shouldn’t chase just money,” said Roach. “There isn’t enough money to pay for a job you’re not happy in — I would definitely encourage people to look for what their passion is, and look for what they want to do.”