A Collaboration to Build Yankton’s Future Workforce
3 Aug 2018
In a recent national survey of 2,000 employers, 46 percent indicated it’s difficult to find the talent they need to fill jobs. Positions requiring skilled labor, such as electrician, welder and mechanic, are in especially high demand.
Forward thinking and fast action are needed to address this worker shortage. Yankton has been working proactively to bridge this skills gap. The goal is to inspire youth to attend technical training programs.
The effort began by strengthening relationships between the Yankton School District (YSD), area employers and Yankton Area Progressive Growth. Yankton High School Principal Dr. Jennifer Johnke says forging this alliance has been critical for a couple of different reasons.
“We’re helping to create a strong workforce within our community, which is important for the growth of the community and to ensure businesses are finding the help they need,” says Johnke. “It’s also important to help high school students find their niche of what they love to do. Hopefully, they find what they love to do — and they come back to do it in Yankton.”
Yankton High School launched an internship program in the spring of 2016. It started as a pilot program with eight students. Last semester, the program boasted 46 interns with even more students on a waiting list for placement.
Based on the success of these efforts, YSD was one of only four schools in the state chosen for the Career Launch Program, sponsored by the Governor’s Office and the South Dakota departments of education and labor.
Through this initiative, two employees from the Department of Labor serve as liaisons between the school and Yankton businesses. Their focus is to expand internship and apprenticeship opportunities in the area.
Johnke says the presence of these career advisors has made a big difference. “We found that school counselors are so busy with other things. The additional staff really help students determine goals and find career paths.”
Students and employers have already seen the value of these efforts. Students are getting hands-on work experience that helps them choose an eventual career path. They’re also making connections with employers.
Several Yankton student interns have gone on to receive Build Dakota scholarships, which cover all tuition, books and fees for technical education at four institutions in the state, including Southeast Technical Institute, Lake Area Technical Institute, Western Dakota Technical Institute and Mitchell Technical Institute.
Build Dakota was created with a $50 million investment. Philanthropist T. Denny Sanford donated half of the funding and the South Dakota Future Fund provided the rest.
The scholarship is competitive. Only about one-quarter of students who apply receive a full scholarship. Students must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA. In exchange for a free education, Build Dakota scholars agree to work for a South Dakota employer in their chosen field for three years after graduation.
Johnke points out that when recipients return to South Dakota communities to work, it’s a big win for the local economy. She points to the importance of building a collaborative partnership with area employers and YAPG in making this happen.
“I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to the Yankton community and the different businesses, manufacturers and industry that have helped grow this. Without their help and support, we wouldn’t have this internship program. For that we’re extremely grateful.”