Talent Production – One Key to the Workforce Dilemma
by Al Heuton, BEDC Executive Director
According to the Area Development magazines 30th Annual Survey of Corporate Executives, the top factor for companies considering a new investment is the availability of skilled labor. Both corporate CEOs and site selectors agree on this. Opinions differ after this with CEOs suggesting highway access, quality of life and construction costs being the next most important. Labor costs and corporate tax rates ranked sixth and seventh of the twelve factors identified. The next three top factors for site selectors were labor costs, proximity to markets and incentives. Corporate tax rates didn’t show up on their top twelve list.
One thing is certain in everything we hear and read, and that is access to labor is the key determining factor. Not just skilled labor, but all labor in our case. Brookings and South Dakota, which in its entirety is smaller than many metropolitan communities, will struggle with this issue even though both are fortunate to have net in-migration. So, how can we solve this problem? The answer is that it may require fifty, two percent solutions. There is no single solution.
In the case of Brookings, Brookings County and the surrounding region, key components of the solution include recruiting future workers from beyond our borders, retaining more of our high school and college graduates, affordable housing, continued quality of life improvements, growing the community to increase our ability to recruit amenities, creating awareness of the career opportunities in the area, creating a broader range of career and occupational opportunities, and preparing to both accept, and lead, cultural change. These are just a few of the solutions that we seek to address.
Another important solution involves education and workforce training. Brookings is fortunate to have South Dakota State University and the students that come to Brookings. Just recently we were able to expand the community’s relationship with Lake Area Technical Institute. This will be a very beneficial long-term move for Brookings. For example, in a recent survey of Brookings employees we found that over 300 employees would be interested in seeking a technical degree if it could be offered in Brookings. This cohort of survey respondents include people with four-year college degrees seeking to improve their skills. The LATI relationship includes the development of industry labs that could make this possible.
BEDC is also working with SDSU and the Brookings School District to secure funding for a demonstration Learning Lab. A Learning Lab is a teaching/learning environment in which high school aged students, teachers, and university faculty engage with industry partners to develop innovative, problem-based curriculum that directly addresses workforce and industry needs and prepares students for post-secondary careers or college pursuits. In addition to a hands-on learning process that stresses creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, students receive core subject instruction applied directly to the problem solving exercise.
We hope that in the not too distant future Brookings will have not only a demonstration Learning Lab, but an Innovation Lab hosting a full suite of Learning Labs that will help prepare students for employment in our current and future industries.