Solving the Workforce Shortage by Aligning Key Resources - Southeast Technical Institute

Solving the Workforce Shortage by Aligning Key Resources

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Creating and Executing Real Solutions Through Collaboration and Innovation

Although there’s been a lot of talk about the looming skills gap and subsequent skilled labor shortage, the question remains, ‘What exactly are we doing to solve it?’. Not just a problem for one industry, the skills gap is an equal opportunity player and has a growing number of Sioux Falls area businesses concerned from healthcare to manufacturing. The following irrefutable national trends based on demographics have cast a troubling future for the healthy growth of the Sioux Falls area economy:

  • aging out of Baby Boomers
  • population decrease with Gen Xer’s 
  • a lack of interest in technical and trade career fields from Millennials

According to Tom Kelley, Chief Executive Officer with Gage Bros. Concrete Products, Inc., “We are turning work away and more importantly we are just working our people too hard. We need to get back to a better work-life balance and it’s going to take more people and better trained people to do it.”

And the numbers that are coming out of local high schools (Generation Z) are just as alarming. Currently, 43% of all Sioux Falls School District graduates aren’t seeking to further their education in any way directly following high school graduation which drops to 35% in the following two years. A fact that poses an opportunity as much as a threat and one that Southeast Tech in collaboration with the Sioux Falls School District and area employers are willing to take on.

The factors that contribute to both the problem and the solution are most often intertwined but in most cases not aligned;

  1. Ready, willing and able talent
  2. Employers to hire needed talent
  3. Education for specific skill sets
  4. Funding for education


The need to encourage the growth of a talent pipeline for high-demand careers in the Sioux Falls area has resulted in conversations that have identified multiple facets that are being actively researched. An initiative by Southeast Tech President Griggs to flesh out these opportunities with area industry leaders through Sector Breakfasts have renewed interest in working collaboratively to solve the issue. According to President Griggs, “We’re committed to our workforce development mission. The conversations at the Sector Breakfast meetings are providing an opportunity for our faculty and administration to hear extremely important and valuable information directly from area employers that we can use to respond to area workforce needs. We really want business and industry representatives to view Southeast Tech as an economic development partner and a resource for the community of Sioux Falls and for the region.”


In addition to having more than 300 area business leaders on Advisory Committees that help guide curriculum for each program at Southeast Tech, their leadership is also maintained at Southeast Tech Council and Foundation board levels. The conversation about meeting common needs across all industries includes:

  • More graduates are needed to fill positions
  • Communication skills are paramount including better soft skills
  • Better plan for interacting with high school students regarding career fields, not jobs
  • Education about the reality of technical careers
  • Shorter term education opportunities, creating certificates to up-skill the workforce they currently have
  • Employable work skills right away
  • Be more reflective of the community - mirror our constituents and the changing demographics
  • Strategic marketing to parents/students/counselors
  • Specific training within different industries
  • Incorporation of apprenticeships, ‘earn while you learn’ opportunities


Built around addressing the needs of South Dakota and the surrounding regions, Southeast Tech is working to not only provide programming that educates talent in fields that are in high demand, they are also working to provide delivery methods that are more agile and flexible. Multiple new opportunities are being created in direct response from requests from industry. Kari J. Karst, President of BX Civil & Construction, Inc. completely supports the addition of short term training to help spur not only the employment pool but to invigorate the success of the current pool. “I strongly believe that to advance and promote current employees they are better served with certificates as short as six weeks along with pre-apprenticeships. The concept of exposing potential employees to an industry as well as the fundamentals of the work is critical. The only way we’re going to get people into our industry is to invest. It’s a whole basket full of things that need to happen.”

"The apprenticeship training model combines work-based learning with related classroom instruction using the highest industry standards. These opportunities provide students with crucial job skills in high-demand areas and allow them to earn while they learn. They also directly benefit industries that are looking to fill workforce gaps." – Governor Daugaard

In direct response to industry need, Southeast Tech has developed the following education and training opportunities:

  • Pre-apprenticeship Carpentry: built as an opportunity for juniors and seniors in high school, this program will launch Summer of 2018 and combines classroom/laboratory instruction with on-the-job employment. Partner employers will pay participants for their hours both on campus and on-the-job.
  • Carpentry Apprenticeship: launched the Summer of 2017, a collaborative effort with the Home Builders Association and CTE, this two-year Carpentry Apprenticeship Program involves 288 hours of in-class instruction and 4,000 hours of on-the-job training.
  • Dental Assisting Apprenticeship: anticipated launch date Fall 2018
  • Plumbing Apprenticeship: launched Fall 2017
  • Welding Certifications: Students can choose from an 8-week daytime program or 16-week evening program with the following certifications to choose from: Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW); Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW); Flux Core Arc Welding (FCAW); Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW). These launched Fall of 2017.
  • Welding certifications now offered in the evening
  • Medical Coding & Billing Certificates: launched Fall 2017
  • Carpentry Certificate: anticipated launch date Fall 2018
  • Softskills in the Workplace — Bring Your A Game: launched Summer 2017
  • Refocused general education requirements to address workforce needs
  • Grant from Forward Sioux Falls funded training for 10 CDL drivers: Fall 2017
  • Admissions process was restructured to encourage enrollment growth: Spring 2017


The need for education funding is being addressed in numerous ways on the campus of Southeast Tech and off. Through the Southeast Tech Foundation individual scholarships are available for students as well as the full-ride Build Dakota Scholarship made possible through the generous private donation from T. Denny Sanford. The Build Dakota scholarship covers 100% of select high-demand programs including tuition, fees, books and tools and is available for both in-state and out-of-state students. Those who are awarded with the scholarship commit to stay in South Dakota to work in their field of study for three years.

To leverage and stretch the Build Dakota dollars, Southeast Tech has created a Sponsor-A-Scholar program to provide highly motivated students that are interested in a skilled technical career with the tools, resources and opportunities necessary to successfully earn their degree and start a thriving career.

Sponsor-A-Scholar matches individuals with companies that are willing to invest in their education and career. This support would encompass financial assistance for tuition as well as employment after graduation.

President Bob Griggs shares, “I firmly believe that by working together we can identify, collaborate and strengthen our community. It’s an exciting time to be a part of technical education in South Dakota and have the opportunity to impact the Sioux Falls region so significantly. It all starts with our students and the quality of education they receive on our campus. We’re looking forward to continuing our community conversations and more importantly act on them.”

Categories: Admissions, Foundation, Industry


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