MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota needs to change the perception of skilled trades as less-desirable careers to help deal with a shortage of workers, Gov. Dennis Daugaard says.
Daugaard told those at a workforce summit in Mitchell on Tuesday that students need to be encouraged to go into trades such as welding, plumbing and electrical. Of the 10,000 jobs listed with the state Labor Department, about one-fourth are in skilled trades, he said.
"We need to change some prevalent attitudes and beliefs. We need to encourage kids to see skilled trades as respectable opportunities," Daugaard said. "Students and parents have this notion, they think of four-year colleges as a place they must go, that if instead they choose technical school or skilled trade it's somehow a consolation prize, and we've got to get away from that."
James River Valley cities from Aberdeen in the north to Yankton in the south are struggling to find workers, and officials say the problem will worsen as hundreds more jobs are created in the next year.
Trail King Industries CEO Bruce Yakley said he worries that he will miss an opportunity to double the size of his Mitchell-based trailer manufacturing company because he can't find enough skilled workers.
"If we can't hire people here, the alternative is to get another plant in the Southeast or Texas," he said. "The work ethic here in this region is spectacular, and this is where we'd like to do business, but if we're forced to do something else because we can't find people, it means Trail King will end up with more facilities someplace else."
Trail King has about 200 openings in Mitchell and has been recruiting welders from states as far as Florida. Bryan Hisel, executive director of the Mitchell Area Development Corp. and the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce, said the number of open jobs in the manufacturing and production fields in the James River Valley is expected to grow to about 2,000 in the next two years as rural populations continue to decline.
Greg Von Wald, president of Mitchell Technical Institute, said hundreds of people are graduating from state universities and finding no jobs in fields such as sociology and psychology.
"There is a mismatch when it comes to what we're training them for, the direction they're going and what the jobs are," he said. "Skilled worker careers have become careers of the last resort . for somebody else's kid."
Daugaard said "help wanted" ads aren't listing jobs for historians or political scientists but for machinists and welders.
"We talk about creating millions of shovel-ready jobs for a society that isn't encouraging people to lift up a shovel," he said.