Eye on KELOLAND: Labor Secretary on why there is a shortage of workers

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been a tough few years for some KELOLAND businesses, especially retail stores and restaurants. Although the pandemic is still having an impact, vaccinations are allowing things to get back to normal. But many businesses are struggling to find workers.

It’s a sign of the times, everywhere you go across KELOLAND, you will see help wanted signs.

South Dakota Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman believes there are several factors behind the current shortage.

“I think one is COVID hesitancy, people are hesitant to return to the workforce or have reevaluated their lifestyles or maybe decided maybe they can get by on one income and they are going to continue to do that for a while,” Hultman said. “Another factor is again that some industries actually grew during COVID and thrived, so it is not like all industries suffered and there’s that banner tourism season that we can point to that’s an example of that.”

Hultman also points out that there was a worker shortage in South Dakota “before” the pandemic. For instance, in this pre-pandemic KELOLAND story from August of 2019, the Sioux Falls Development Foundation hosted a summit to address the worker shortage.

One focus was attracting and retaining younger people.

“They want that complete career commitment to cause and culture that’s a driver, ” said the Sioux Falls Development Foundation’s Denise Guzzetta in 2019.

Today, many blame the worker shortage on extended federal unemployment benefits, but Hultman says that isn’t the case, at least in South Dakota.

On June 26th, the state stopped giving out the 300 dollars a week in federal benefits. At the time there were only 1,150 people collecting the extra money. About 1,700 people are collecting the state unemployment benefits which is normal for this time of year. Add those together and that’s fewer than 3,000 people out of work.

Then compare that to the 24,000 jobs currently available in the state and it is obvious the federal benefits from the CARES Act are not the problem in South Dakota.

Business owners are in a tough spot, and there is no easy answer, but Hultman believes there are a few things employers can do to attract the workers they need.

“One is to look at teenagers, which I really think we’ve seen an increase in our participation rate of teenagers in the workforce. But look at them and allow for some flexibility, it may take 3 teenagers to fill one position but if you get good committed kids in those positions it is worth the scheduling hassle to have them,” said Hultman. “Another thing is to utilize the tools at South Dakota Works, it’s our state-run online job posting. One thing we encourage employers to do is actually list the wage for their jobs. And there has been hesitation historically to maybe not want to share that information with competitors but it is statistically shown that a job order with a wage listed gets way more attention than a job order that does not include that information, so that’s a small thing employers can do,” said Hultman.

The state’s wage data isn’t in yet, but Hultman believes it will show wages are increasing in the state as employers compete for good workers. As for the future, the state is gathering data for a study and Hultman believes it will show help is on the way.

She says they see examples of increasing numbers of people coming to South Dakota looking for a place to live and work.

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