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In the News: 'Training Leads to Jobs'

The following story appears in the Wednesday, Jan. 22, issue of the Sioux Falls Business Journal:

Training Leads to Jobs for Young Adults
By Brenda Wade Schmidt, Sioux Falls Business Journal

Getting a job as a higher education graduate in South Dakota might be as easy as earning a degree in a medical field or getting a teaching certificate.

Both fields have high placement rates for college graduates, with nurses and teachers getting 100 percent placement at Augustana College, for example. Stories are similar at South Dakota State University, where pharmacists typically find 100 percent placement.

ON THE COVER:
Augustana senior nursing major Alex Sproul (right) talks with registered nurse Nick Person at Sanford USD Medical Center. When Sproul passes his boards, he will have a job waiting for him at Sanford Health. Photo by: Joe Ahlquist / Argus Leader

Area colleges, universities and technical schools report high numbers for job placements after graduation – typically in the high 90 percent area. Yet nationally and statewide, young people as a category have some of the highest unemployment rates, too. In South Dakota, the rate is roughly more than double the overall unemployment rate. Compared to 4.4 percent for the general population on average in 2012, the unemployment rate for 20 to 24 year olds in South Dakota is estimated at 9.8 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent data.

Local job watchers find those numbers perplexing, however, and say the market is good, especially for those with post-high school training. The Sioux Falls area has numerous and varied opportunities, and young people are coming out of schools with skills to help them in the work world.

“I have lots of openings that go unfilled,” said Sandi Vietor, director of the Career Center at Augustana. “I think employers are dying for people.”

Graduating college students such as Alex Sproul already have a job. The Augustana nursing major will finish his clinicals and an internship in May, will study for his boards, take the test and, with a passing score, will start work as an RN at Sanford Health sometime this summer. In the meantime, he is working alongside of a nurse at Sanford USD Medical Center, spending time in various areas to help him decide which department he would like best.

The placement is through an agreement the college and the hospital have called Partners in Nursing, an opportunity Sproul received through an application process.

For Sproul, a Harrisburg High School graduate, knowing he likely has a job provides relief and time to soak in all he can from the on-the-job training.

“It does take stress off instead of having to finish my classes and my clinical work, passing my boards and trying to get a job on top of it,” he said. “Now, I’ve really got to switch roles from student to nurse, a caregiver, a health care provider.”

Experience is important

Job experiences and connections are important for students right out of school, said Mary Medema, director of workforce development with the Sioux Falls Development Foundation. She helps place 50 summer interns a year at local companies.

“The students I see are usually at the upper end of their class and the upper end of ambition,” she said. “They’re already building their resume. They’re already a little more talented.”

Students, for the most part, are prepared for their jobs, she said. They find that they continue to learn skills while they work, and they start to understand how their training translates to industry.

“There’s a reason people practice teaching, and there’s a reason nurses do clinicals. They get to watch them apply that knowledge,” she said of experience on the job benefiting both students and employers.

While medical, technology and other certain fields are looking for more employees than colleges and technical schools can sometimes produce, there still are fields that aren’t in as high demand. Several placement professionals mention marketing and communications as hard areas for students to find jobs. Business majors, while entering a diverse field, also might have to consider areas they didn’t initially think they would find interesting.

But that’s OK, Medema said. Experience is the most important part of those first jobs and it can take time to find that “dream” position.

“It takes a couple of jobs, I think, before that takes hold,” she said. “I really think you have to combine it with some experience.”

At Raven Industries, 35 college or technical students can earn summer internships each year, and one-third might get hired to fill company openings, said Jan Matthieson, vice president of human resources.

“College graduates, they come in with a very good base of knowledge. There’s nothing like the on-the-job experience they get when they get here,” she said. “Our interns come in and they’re given a project. They’re really part of the team for us.”

The experience for young workers means a transition from theoretical knowledge to using what they know to solve big problems, one of Raven’s themes, she said.

“We need very critical thinkers,” she said. “We really look for a cultural fit for us. We want that enthusiasm, that passion to learn.”

Changing job searches

Sioux Falls has many solid employers, such as Raven, that look for college graduates to hire, Vietor said.

“What has changed is the way they get the job and how they job search,” she said. “I don’t see the same engagement.”

In the past, students spent time networking more and meeting face-to-face with potential employers. These days, they must sell themselves typically through a computer application and their resume.

“The ones that get it, they’re still going to go out and forge those relationships,” Vietor said.

Jade Kampsen, a junior at South Dakota State University, is starting early. The New London, Minn., native has had two internships and will have a third this summer before her senior year.

“I wanted to get one early, so I could see what I wanted to do,” she said.

In part, it has allowed Kampsen to find what areas within her agriculture education major paired with journalism and agronomy minors that she finds most interesting. It also has allowed her to make important connections with people in the industry.

“I do feel I could land a job after an internship. Networking is important to me because I realize the potential outcomes for myself,” she said. “Those relationships you made previously in your career and your life, those really stand out.”

During the school year, Kampsen is a Land O’Lakes representative on campus, after working as an intern. She scouts for potential students who show a strong work ethic and would be good employees. She also is in a growing industry in South Dakota, which will be an advantage in seeking jobs.

“I have more options with the ag because I can teach or I can go industry. I think my passion will be in the industry,” she said.

Economy helps

Students such as Kampsen and Sproul might be benefiting from a return to growth in the economy, too. Most companies in the area are expanding , Medema and others said.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data underscore the effect of the sluggish economy on young people, many of them college graduates, who are delaying careers, marriage and having children. Among adults ages 25 to 29 nationally, only 4.9 million, or 23.3 percent, moved in the 12 months ending March 2013. That’s down from 24.6 percent in the same period the year before, and the lowest level since at least 1963.

That’s an indicator that the economy still had some uncertainty in terms of jobs. But in Sioux Falls, where there wasn’t as big of a drop-off during the recession as there was nationally, many employers can’t find enough skilled workers.

At Sanford, at any given time, the health system has 500 open jobs, including half that are appropriate for college or tech school graduates, managers in the human resources department said.

Some of the biggest needs are licensed practical nurses plebotomists and physical and occupational therapists. But with the opening of Sanford Sports Complex and the expansion of its Profile nutrition program, there are other types of job openings as well, said Karla Haugan, vice president of human resources.

“The way that Sanford is expanding into the community we really are trying to get a fit for anyone,” she said.

An announcement last week by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who wants to invest state money in career and technical training, will help train more students in high-demand areas and will allow that training to be on the latest technology, said Jeff Holcomb, president of Southeast Technical Institute. Daugaard sees it as an important part of the state’s economic development.

Anyone with training in the trades, such as auto mechanics, diesel mechanics, auto body technology, computer technology, health care and welding, is in high demand, Holcomb said.

“Those graduates are consistently snapped up. Most will have jobs by the end of this month. I will have businesses contact me in March, and I will say, ‘You’re too late. These kids already have jobs,’ ”he said.

Southeast has added a place on its website for students to post resumes and employers to place job openings in hopes of connecting the two.

On the other end of the spectrum, Holcomb said he understands some of trends that match those national statistics of young people delaying entry into the workforce. He sees students who put off deciding on a career and live with their parents, taking time off from furthering their education. That seems to happen more with this generation of students than young people during previous generations, he said.

The attitudes of those young workers and what they are looking for in a job is something employers have to be aware of, as well. Young employees would rather quit than stay at a job where something didn’t appeal to them.

“This generation is just different,” Holcomb said. “They are really looking for that work/life balance. They would rather not have a job than have a job they don’t like.”