LATI Working to Increase Apprenticeship Programs
By Dan Crisler, Public Opinion Staff Writer
When South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem outlined her administration’s priorities over a week ago at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, she spoke of a desire to increase opportunities for South Dakota’s workforce by training potential employees for skilled jobs that come with high wages.
One primary component to achieving that vision, according to Noem, is working with the state’s four technical schools, including LATI, in expanding apprenticeship programs with industry and business partners.
“That individual can get trained on the job while they’re earning a wage to provide for their family,” she said.
Depending on the technical field, wages can start at approximately $25 per hour or more.
Given where Noem was speaking, she found a receptive audience. Indeed, LATI officials, including Director of Outreach Shane Swenson, said they appreciate Noem’s commitment.
“That’s exciting news that Governor Noem wants to continue to push apprenticeships,” Swenson said.
As Swenson indicated, Noem’s goal is not exactly a new one, at least as it pertains to LATI. For a couple of years now with the help of a federal grant, LATI has offered apprenticeships for select majors.
According to Swenson, LATI currently has apprenticeship opportunities for students in building trades residential carpentry. In Brookings, LATI has partnered with four companies — Larson Manufacturing, Daktronics, Falcon Plastics and Counterpart Inc. — to offer production technology apprenticeships for Brookings High School students.
For students, having an apprenticeship allows them to learn on the job under a seasoned employee. By working a full-time work week, students are paid by their employer on a progressive wage scale as they accumulate experience. Swenson said students continue to take classes during their apprenticeship, which can run concurrently with the school year.
The intent of the apprenticeship program, according to Swenson, is to give the enrolled students an even higher skill set upon graduation than they may have otherwise acquired.
In offering apprenticeships, Swenson said participating employers have an inside track to newly-skilled employees since those employees already have a job.
“Hopefully, that increases the apprentice’s skill level and wages. (The program) provides a reliable pipeline for skilled workers to industry,” Swenson said.
Students who have completed their apprenticeships are also recognized with a certificate acknowledging full skill proficiency. The certificate is recognized throughout the nation.
With the apprenticeship program still somewhat in the fledgling stage, Swenson said LATI is always looking to add new apprenticeship opportunities. Swenson said LATI is currently working on adding apprenticeships to the welding program. LATI is also working on adding more apprenticeships in the building manufacturing field. Swenson said the institute will also look into the possibility of healthcare apprenticeships.
Swenson said the apprenticeship program is another way for LATI to quickly and efficiently respond to the ever changing needs of business and industry partners.
“For us, we think it’s another nice tool to have in the toolbox of what we can offer industry to help them with their workforce needs,” Swenson said.