Skipping school to learn a skilled trade on the job

Eye on KELOLAND

Workforce shortages are an ongoing issue in KELOLAND, with skilled trades seeing some of the biggest needs for new workers. 

It’s why South Dakota started the Build Dakota Scholarship, providing students the opportunity to get a fully paid technical education with a commitment to work in the state for three years.

But the continued workforce shortages are prompting some companies to start recruiting people even earlier.

“Welding for me I think it’s easy, but getting started is usually the hardest part,” Rosenbauer welder Shai-Lyn Grimmthode said.

Grimmthode went to school at Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls, originally studying law enforcement, but quickly switched courses. She says she tried welding in high school and liked it, so she gave it a try in tech school and it really took off. 

“Once you get into it and get into the groove, then you’re perfect, you’re golden,” Crimmthode said.

She’s worked at Rosenbauer America’s factory in Lyons, South Dakota for the past two years, helping to construct fire trucks that are sent all over the world.

“Things come just flat, plain, you sand it, weld it, grind it, and it turns into something that can help save lives,” Grimmthode said.

She is one of two female welders in her department at Rosenbauer, but there are many others working throughout the facility. 

“I like how friendly everyone is, everyone welcomes you with open arms,” she said.

Grimmthode said it was easy to get over the stereotype that only men can weld. 

“I just got done with a pregnancy actually and I welded through my entire pregnancy,” she said.

“Women I think often times don’t look at that, they think that’s a man’s job, but we have quite a few women welders. It works for anyone at any age,” Rosenbauer human resources generalist¬†Marti Robinson said.

Robinson says even high school graduates entering the workforce for the first time can quickly learn to weld.

“Welding and technical jobs are definitely down, so we’re definitely looking for opportunities to bring people in right out of school and do on-the-job training or even out of college or technical schools such as STI,” Robinson said.

“What we hear from employers is they’re really happy with our graduates, what they really need is just more of them,” Southeast Tech Automotive Instructor Jason Merritt said.

The shortage of skilled workers has tech school graduates in high demand.

“We have 35 programs with 100% placement here on this campus, so we feel like anyone can have success with our programs,” Merritt said.

“It’s a very good industry to get into, there’s a lot of people from around the United States that tried to recruit me. I was offered jobs from around the coast,” Grimmthode said.

But school isn’t for everybody.  That’s why Rosenbauer is one of several manufacturing firms working to recruit high school grads, even before they go to tech school.

“Some people just want to get out there, it leaves you with little to no debt and you get a very marketable skill in learning to weld,” Robinson said.

Robinson says Rosenbauer pays based on experience and beginning welders will be paid the same whether they’re coming in from high school or a tech school.

“At Rosenbauer we do all custom fabrications. So no two fire trucks are exactly the same, we build to each individual specification. So our welding isn’t the general assembly line welding, so here we have to train them to think outside of the box,” Robinson said.

That’s exactly what Grimmthode does in her job every day.

“I start with these, end up sanding them, then end up pushing them all together,” she said.

Grimmthode spends her days making easy climb ladders specially crafted for each truck. It’s a specific weld she now has mastered.

“From completely cleaned and just cut, it takes me about an hour and a half [to make a ladder] it used to take people three hours, but once I get going I really get in the groove and get it done,” Grimmthode said.

While the folks at Rosenbauer say within their company, most prospective employees would come out ahead if they skip the bill for school and head right to work. But the the instructor we spoke with at Southeast Tech says he still believes tech school graduates have a greater earning potential throughout their careers. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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