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Worker recruitment ramps up with South Dakota construction projects in play

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Mike Moen

(Greater Dakota News Service) Both western and eastern sections of South Dakota are busy with construction projects, and union leaders hope more young people interested in the trades take notice.

This coming Monday, National Apprenticeship Week kicks off.

Jon Mahan, assistant director of organizing for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, said the time is right for South Dakotans to explore such opportunities. In the Rapid City area, Ellsworth Air Force Base is being expanded, and on the eastern side, federal investments for clean energy projects are taking shape.

Mahan feels they have turned a corner in dispelling myths about the trades being considered a "fallback" option.

"It is absolutely something that can be looked at as a great first-choice option for a student graduating from high school or a tech school," Mahan emphasized. "To set themselves up for a great life and career."

Mahan pointed to participation in their apprenticeship program in South Dakota, which has grown from a half-dozen people several years ago to nearly 50 right now. But he noted there are still worker shortages statewide.

The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation said construction continues trending upward, with apartment complexes and road repairs among the other projects surfacing. 

On the union side, Mahan acknowledged there are still outdated opinions to be overcome, such as collecting annual dues being a labor union's central focus. He argued labor organizations play a vital role in addressing issues like wage theft in construction. 

"We pay a small dues membership in order to be entitled to great wages and benefits that come along with working for a union contractor," Mahan asserted. "Putting some of those things behind us is absolutely a way for people to see what great benefits can come along with working for any of the union building trades."

As for federally funded projects, some laws like the Inflation Reduction Act contain apprenticeship language Mahan feels will create more pathways for people to break into the industry. Meanwhile, the Air Force base expansion is expected to spur more housing development in and around Rapid City.