by the staff at the Huron Daily Plainsman, June 20, 2015
Huron—Four young Huron men will get a jump start on their careers thanks to the Build Dakota Scholarship program and the willingness of a Huron company to invest in the education of its future skilled workforce.
Dakota Provisions, a cooperatively owned processor of fresh turkey products, is partnering with Build Dakota and Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI) to address its projected need for electricians and automation control technicians through participation in MTI’s Double Edge program.
The Double Edge is a hybrid of the Build Dakota and MTI’s Workforce Recruitment Program. Under the program, a student’s education is funded by Build Dakota and the sponsoring company. The student must maintain an academic standard to remain eligible and commit three years of post-graduate service to the company.
Tanner Dorris and Min Ko Oo will enroll in MTI’s Electrical Construction and Maintenance program this fall, while Kaw Ah Tha and Eh Doh will take up studies in the Automation Controls/SCADA program.
These academic programs, along with 11 others at MTI, are designated as high-need workforce programs by the Build Dakota Scholarship board, and students entering those fields of study are eligible to apply for funding under the program. All but one are graduates of Huron High School.
“Our processing and packaging equipment is state of the art and it requires highly skilled technicians to maintain it,” said Mark “Smoky” Heuston, Dakota Provision’s director of human resources. “In a tight labor market, electricians and SCADA technicians are hard to come by, so it was an easy decision to invest in these young men. They are people we’ve gotten to know, and we feel they are a safe and necessary investment in our future.”
Build Dakota was created earlier this year out of a $25 million gift to South Dakota’s four technical institutes by philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. Over the first five years of the program, the equivalent of approximately 1,200 full-ride scholarships will be awarded to qualifying students in eligible academic programs.
The state of South Dakota matched the Sanford gift, and those funds were placed in an endowment that will continue to fund the Build Dakota program after the initial funds are invested in South Dakota’s future technical workforce.
Because of the existence of the WRP program at MTI – a program under which a company funds a portion of a student’s education for a post-grad commitment of employment with the company – the mechanism was in place for the creation of the Double Edge program. The outcome is that more students will benefit from the Build Dakota dollars, while participating companies gain the assurance of trained talent when the student graduates.
A tight labor market is a consequence of South Dakota’s thriving economy and, according to Huron’s Workforce Development Executive Director Brooke Sydow, requires companies to invest in their workforce in unique ways.
“If you’re going to compete for a finite labor pool,” she said, “it is a good idea to participate in educating and qualifying your upcoming workforce today. The Build Dakota Scholarship and MTI’s Double Edge are exciting opportunities, and companies that take advantage of them will likely be better positioned for the future.”
According to Mark Gerhardt, MTI’s vice president of industry relations, “in the five-year existence of the WRP program, we’ve had over 20 companies in seven different industries sponsor dozens of students who are now employed by those companies.”
Three Huron companies participate in either the WRP or the Double Edge program at Mitchell Tech, and officials there hope to see that number grow.
“Once the pipeline of talent starts to flow,” he said, “the enthusiasm for the WRP grows, and most companies increase their level of participation. The rate of growth should be even greater with the Double Edge.”
In addition to the four Double Edge students, Dakota Provisions currently sponsors two students through the WRP, both of whom will be second-year electrical students at MTI this fall. All six students are working full-time at Dakota Provisions this summer and will continue to work during school breaks until they graduate.