SD lawmakers seek numbers on workforce development

Chet Brokaw, Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- South Dakota lawmakers said Monday they need better statistics to determine how well the state is training and recruiting workers for key industries.

Legislative Planning Committee members said they have no central source of information about workforce development. Once lawmakers know what state agencies, schools and other organizations are doing to provide workers needed for critical jobs, the Legislature can do a better job of setting labor development policies, the committee said.

Established to conduct long-term planning on key issues, the committee is putting together a document on workforce development. Committee members said a set of measurements would be comparable to dashboard instrument readings to help the Legislature steer the best course for developing talent.

"We've got to get that down to where we've got gauges in front of us," said Rep. Scott Munsterman, R-Brookings, the committee's chair.

The Governor's Office of Economic Development has targeted its development efforts in the firearms and outdoors industry, advanced manufacturing, bioscience, financial services and energy.

The committee will seek suggestions how schools' and agencies' performances should be judged in terms of recruiting and training workers, and will then set benchmarks.

Munsterman said key statistics might include schools' post-graduation placement rates and availability of workers. For example, if universities are having trouble providing needed workers because tuition is too high, the Legislature might give the schools more money so they can hold down tuition and attract more students, he said.

Kim Olson, an adviser to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said the state is operating 20 workforce development programs created last year as part of a package proposed by the governor. Those programs focus on helping schools educate students for key occupations, setting up programs to train skilled workers, increasing the number of doctors and other health care workers in rural areas and recruiting workers from other states, she said.

Olson said officials are now putting together statistics to determine whether the programs have helped narrow the gap between supply and demand for workers in key industries, and will give the committee an update at its next meeting, tentatively set for July 11.

The workforce programs were put together after looking at the need for workers in information technology, financial services, manufacturing and health care fields, as well as the need for more teachers in science, math, technology and engineering,

Committee members noted that one of Daugaard's programs, a contract with a national recruiting firm, has not worked as well as projected. The company was supposed to help fill 1,000 jobs in three years, but only 83 had been filled a year after the contract was signed.

It's since been modified to let South Dakota businesses use other recruiters and be reimbursed for part of their expenses.

South Dakota's unemployment rate is traditionally among the lowest in the nation — 4.1 percent in April. But lawmakers said many workers can be retrained so they can get higher-paying jobs.


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