South Dakota efforts connect construction employers with youths

December 12, 2019

The 2.3% jobless rate in the Sioux Falls metro area in September was one of the 50 lowest in the U.S., according to brookingsregister.com. The city’s consistently low unemployment rate has led to a competitive push across industries—including construction—to attract and retain workers.

Employers in the Sioux Falls area are making a concerted effort to connect with students as young as high school and even middle school after years of facing an ongoing worker shortage. There has been an increase in programs, camps and classes designed to expose youths to trades such as architecture, construction and welding, including the return of shop courses.

O'Gorman High School is one of several high schools refocusing on skilled trades by partnering with local businesses. Its shop class was revitalized by a grant from the Sioux Empire Home Builders Care Foundation. While planning for its first year, local business owner and shop teacher Jeff Rhone estimated he would have between eight and 12 students per semester; there were 45 students in the first semester of the class.

O'Gorman High School also is revamping its drafting course and purchased four 3D printers to help students visualize their work. It is beginning an architecture class in 2020 using the same software used by local firms so students will be familiar with the programs when they move on to college, technical schools or careers.

Harrisburg High School in South Dakota’s Lincoln County recently began a new construction program geared toward teaching students the basics of home building. Using a $250,000 workforce education grant and $250,000 grant from the Sioux Empire Home Builders Care Foundation, the school is completing a new facility in which students will construct homes for low-income families. Affordable Housing Solutions in Sioux Falls is partnering with Harrisburg students for the class. While students build the home using materials provided by Affordable Housing Solutions, the organization will choose a community revitalization lot, purchase the land, select a family to buy the home and move the finished house to the site.

Additionally, the Sioux Falls Development Foundation hosted a Talent Draft Day event in October that connected employers throughout the region with more than 600 students interested in skilled trades, including students from 12 high schools. And the Home Builders Association of the Sioux Empire worked with Sioux Falls public schools to develop a carpentry apprenticeship program at the Career and Technical Education Academy, starting a summer camp for seventh- and eighth-graders in 2016.

Michael Amolins, curriculum director for Harrisburg School District, believes in South Dakota’s efforts to create opportunities for students who don’t follow a traditional path.

“It’s not preparing everybody for a four-year degree,” Amolins says. “It’s preparing them for the future that they want.”