Building South Dakota’s Technical Workforce

  • 02/20/2017

In December 2014, Dana Dykhouse, Chief Executive Officer of First PREMIER Bank saw a growing need in the state’s technical workforce and approached T. Denny Sanford with an idea to pay for full-ride scholarships at South Dakota’s technical institutes. The scholarships would encourage more students to consider these high-need trades and bring a refreshed awareness to what technical institutes have to offer.

Mr. Sanford decided to generously pledge $25 million to the project. Dykhouse and Sanford then proposed the idea to South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard. Gov. Daugaard, a strong supporter of South Dakota’s technical schools and career and technical education, also pledged $25 million from the South Dakota Future Fund. This fund is held in an endowment with the South Dakota Community Foundation to offer scholarships after Sanford’s money has been disbursed.

Sanford’s investment will pay for approximately 300 full-ride scholarships for the first five years of the program. The endowment will then be used to fund additional scholarships going forward. In return for the full-ride scholarship, recipients agree to work in South Dakota, in the field paid for by Build Dakota, for three years following graduation. Build Dakota approved programs are in the fields of agriculture, automotive, building trades/construction, energy, engineering, healthcare, IT/CIS, precision manufacturing and welding.

“This partnership between Mr. Sanford and Gov. Daugaard is not only a monetary one,” said Deni Amundson, Program Manager for the Build Dakota Scholarship Fund. “Build Dakota has also partnered with the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation and Governor’s Office of Economic Development and is managed by the South Dakota Department of Education. Build Dakota’s partnership with these state entities has provided a catalyst for education and economic development to come together in one program.”

298 individuals received scholarships for the 2015-2016 school year and 295 for the 2016-2017 school year. 56 students have completed their programs to date. Most of the Build Dakota cohort that started in 2015-2016 will be graduating in May 2017. Since 2015, more than $8.4 million have been awarded to 593 Build Dakota scholars. Over $4 million more will be awarded for the 2017-2018 school year.

Each technical institute has Build Dakota partner programs to work with local businesses and industry to address their local needs. Within these programs, businesses partner with Build Dakota. The business pays for a portion of the scholarship and Build Dakota pays for the other portion.

“By establishing and cultivating this system of industry involvement and partnership with the technical institutes, the impact of Build Dakota will be felt for years to come,” said Amundson.

This partnership with local industry also allows students to begin networking with potential employers early in their education through interview events at the technical institutes. Once they have been matched with a partner, either by the business or school, some businesses offer opportunities for part-time work and mentorship while the scholar is completing his or her education. The scholar may also be guaranteed employment upon graduation.

“As an employer in the Rapid City area, we understand the importance of the availability of skilled workers in all vocations, but especially with the high demand for technical skill jobs,” said Scott Barbour, President of Northwest Pipe Fittings. “Although we don’t benefit directly with workers eligible for any of the Build Dakota scholarships, I believe strongly in supporting Western Dakota Tech and the Build Dakota program. The indirect benefit of quality workers in the vocational areas helps their industries, which in turn strengthens our local economy as a whole. That is why we support Western Dakota Tech and the Build Dakota Scholarship program.”

Build Dakota also works with economic development professionals across the state to present a “Build Dakota Roadshow”. Build Dakota travels with representatives from the technical institutes and meets with potential students, school staff, parents and local businesses. This provides the opportunity to not only hear more about Build Dakota and the technical institute partner programs, but makes the connection to get these potential students in the room together with potential employers. This assists local youth in discovering all of the opportunities available to them in their own back yards.

“These full-ride scholarships continue to change people’s lives while helping to address a critical need in our state,” said Dykhouse. “Not only will these individuals who complete their technical school education serve a vital role in our communities, they will become tomorrow's entrepreneurs and successful business owners that will enhance the quality of life in South Dakota.”