S.D. tech colleges will offer online certificates for workers who are dislocated by COVID-19

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Board of Technical Education approved a plan Thursday that could help up to 800 workers who are unemployed or under-employed because of COVID-19.

Called UpSkill certificates, the new approach would allow dislocated workers to take online courses from South Dakota’s four technical colleges this fall and next spring.

The state board would use $2.2 million of federal CARES Act funding to pay tuition and establish a marketing campaign. Other federal aid could be used for books, supplies and tools.

Certificates would require 18 credits of classes. According to Nick Wendell, the board’s executive director, the certificates would focus on five high-need employment fields: Communications, business, healthcare, information technology and precision manufacturing.

“These are certificates linked to labor markets,” Wendell said. The certificates would be “stackable” for continued education toward a degree, he added.

The program is a partnership between the tech campuses at Sioux Falls, Watertown, Mitchell and Rapid City, and the state Department of Labor and Regulation, which handles reemployment assistance, better known as unemployment insurance.

South Dakota’s latest report Thursday showed continued unemployment claims at 18,649 for the week ending June 6. That was down 6,537 from the pandemic high of 25,186 for the week ending May 9. South Dakota’s May unemployment rate was 9.4%; one year ago in May, it was 3.3%.

South Dakota received $1.25 billion through the CARES Act legislation that Congress passed to help states get through the COVID-19 outbreak, including $7.9 million that Governor Kristi Noem plans to use for education stabilization purposes. UpSkill’s $2.2 million would come from that portion.

“Great financial situation, but how do we get the word out?” asked board president Dana Dykhouse of Sioux Falls. Wendell said marketing and communication are built into the UpSkill budget and he is “in the early stages” of working with a firm that will use social media to take potential students to a landing site.

 The state department has been handling many thousands more unemployment claims than usual and shouldn’t be expected to add the responsibility for marketing UpSkill too, Wendell said.

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