- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Two overlapping circles symbolize the Sioux Falls area’s new approach to addressing its need to grow and develop a workforce.

One circle represents talent attraction and retention.

The other represents talent development.

Where they overlap, economic developers have included elements such as career-based training, state policy and a talent portal.

Overseeing this new strategy is Lon Clemensen, the new vice president of workforce development for the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.

A human resources veteran of the banking and nonprofit worlds, he sees his job as one that fosters collaboration.

“My role is really strategic and action planning, to carry out the agenda items of Forward Sioux Falls,” he said.

The Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/2ln5FTr ) reports Forward Sioux Falls, which started a new five-year campaign this year, is an economic development partnership between the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and the Sioux Falls Development Foundation largely funded by the business community.

Each five-year cycle typically has focused on a few key areas related to economic development.

This time, the emphasis is on workforce development.

The state’s unemployment rate stayed below 3 percent for all of 2016. Sioux Falls was at 2 percent for much of the year, at times ranking as the nation’s lowest unemployment rate for a metro area. Business leaders in a range of industry are struggling to hire, Clemensen said.

“It isn’t just any one business or one industry. It’s entire industries,” he said. “Everybody working together is going to be what it takes to resolve this workforce development challenge.”

The first item in the overlapping circles that define Forward Sioux Falls’ workforce strategy is career-based training and experience.

To tackle it, Clemensen has approached his first months in the job by meeting with a range of leaders, from education to industry, learning about best practices as well as needs.

The fact-finding took him to Midwestern Mechanical Inc., where education manager Christine Therkildsen leads a program to train the commercial contractor’s plumbers in-house.

“In our industry, apprenticeship works,” she said. “That’s the training and progression model that works for us.”

Apprentice plumbers, for instance, must have 8,000 hours of on-the-job training before testing for a journeyman’s license plus time in the classroom. In Iowa, where Midwestern also has an office, the apprenticeship program must be approved by the Department of Labor and include 644 hours of classroom instruction.

So a few years ago, the company’s owner, Dwayne Klarenbeek, decided to hold those classes on site. Therkildsen was hired to coordinate it, and a full-time instructor was hired.

“We kind of run like a school year,” she said. “We give them summers off, because construction is so busy, so they go September through May and classes are held on Fridays. A lot of our people don’t work on Friday because they put hours in during the week.”

The apprentices are paid for their work and receive classes for free, other than less than $100 for books.

There is class instruction combined with lab and safety training, and vendors come in to demonstrate tools. Therklidsen said the program is the only one of its kind in the state.

“What we found works is people find we will train on the job, and it’s attractive. They’re not going to go into debt getting that training and they’re going to make good wages and have great career opportunities.”

The first group of eight in Sioux Falls will finish four-year apprenticeships this year. Behind them, the program has filled in steadily thanks to referrals and recruiting by the company, Therkildsen said.

“We could use more, but you can’t have 20 apprentices and five journeymen. You have to have journeymen to support, so as we continue to get more journeymen licensed, that allows us to bring in more apprentices,” she said.

The company is starting a similar program this fall in HVAC along with program in fire protection and sprinkler fittings.

“We’re very proud of what we have going on,” Therkildsen said. “It’s essential for our business. If we’re going to continue to grow and bid jobs and help Sioux Falls grow, you need workers.”

While Midwestern Mechanical’s approach may provide a strong example for the trades, a new program led by Southeast Tech is trying to lift up best practices and needs in other industries.

The school is hosting a series of “sector breakfasts” to highlight opportunities for collaboration in workforce development.

The first one Jan. 27 drew dozens of healthcare leaders for a panel discussion on needs in that field.

“To me, it’s a wonderful opportunity,” Southeast president Bob Griggs said. “From the Southeast perspective we’re trying to listen to the industry’s perspective: What’s working, what isn’t and what are we missing.”

The second item in the overlapping circles that symbolize workforce development calls for a talent portal.

A group working on this for Forward Sioux Falls is prepared to launch the so-called portal, which takes the form of an online repository of information about the city housed at www.siouxfalls.com.

Clemensen calls it a “one-stop shop where it would be everything, hopefully, that a resident in Sioux Falls or an external person can learn about the city.”

The portal is divided into four categories: Live, work, play and grow. Within each area, content explores aspects of Sioux Falls such as housing options, safety, cost of living, education, dining and recreation.

“It’s not a jobs portal. It’s telling the whole story of Sioux Falls. We will have that in an area for finding a job, but it will have links to job sites,” Clemensen said.

More than two dozen members of the business community have helped create the content for the site.

Stacy Wrightsman, public affairs manager at Sanford Health, worked with her husband, Dan, who is an electrician, to write about job options in Sioux Falls.

They talked about how the city’s record construction activity means plenty of work for “electricians, roofers, plumbers, sheet-rockers, all these trades,” she said, as well as “the personal impact to my husband as a dad and as a worker and what it means.”

The range of job options in the city allows Dan, who likes not being in a “behind the computer” job to work an earlier shift and be home with the family’s sons after school, they shared.

“I know what it meant to him and our family,” said Wrightsman, adding the idea of a talent portal “is critical. The days of doing these types of workforce development things as a nice thing to do are kind of going away. To me, they are critical to continue the momentum of quality growth Sanford is experiencing as well as Sioux Falls is experiencing.”

Rachell Henning, office administrator at Woods, Fuller, Shultz & Smith PC, agreed. She wrote a section on youth activities for the talent portal.

“That’s one that’s near and dear to my heart, because I have two young girls and we have been able to take advantage of the different opportunities presented, so I thought it was a good opportunity to share what it’s meant to us,” she said.

From a human resources perspective, the portal will be helpful, she said.

“It takes a lot of work off HR to try and communicate all the great things about the community,” she said. “I think it’s a great resource and a unique approach.”

Expect the new Forward Sioux Falls workforce development approach to also include new outreach to underutilized populations.

That includes refugees and immigrants.

“I’m excited about where the collaborative opportunities are,” said Betty Oldenkamp, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota.

At LSS, much of the work has centered around connecting people with entry-level jobs. Through expanded partnerships, Oldenkamp sees opportunity to “really focus on growing the earning potential of folks, getting them the skill set it will take for them to advance.”

The agency already works with 100 employers and sees opportunity to go further and build synergy with higher education, she said.

“It’s not something we can do alone,” she said. “We’re hoping that our ethnic populations are one piece of this, but we also see this opening doors for high school kids we work with in a youth mentoring program.”

Griggs, at Southeast Tech, said he has similar hopes for collaboration.

“We need to get out to these populations that don’t see Southeast as an opportunity or an option,” he said. “We had good conversations with LSS and the Multicultural Center to tie into some of the resources they have for training and interpretation.

One initial conversation with Clemensen also led him to consider a potential partnership between Southeast and the Glory House that would connect instructors with former inmates looking to better themselves.

“We’re looking at education as an opportunity to lift people up and provide opportunities for them,” Griggs said.

While many of the potential collaborations are still being explored, Clemensen said they are good early indications of how he is hoping to address workforce development.

“I think by getting business leaders together with education and government and nonprofits, creative ideas start to flow,” he said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com


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