Friday, December 19, 2014

Indentured Servitude Makes A Comeback In South Dakota.

South Dakota, Last Again From '11 to '12




This Year's 3rd Quarter.  Same Ol',Same Ol'
(both graphics from the U.S.Commerce Department)
     There's an amazing lack of astuteness attached to the joint venture just announced by Governor Daugaard and credit card gazillionaire T. Denny Sanford.  At $25 million each, the State of South Dakota and Sanford are creating a full-ride scholarship program called Build Dakota that will provide the scholies at SD's tech institutes for 300 students a year. The graduates then have to stay and work in South Dakota for three years or pay back the money they got from the program.   As one who's constantly carping about underfunded public education in South Dakota, I think the endeavor has plenty of merit in the sense that everybody's heart is in the right place.
     The idea is to add to the small and inadequate pool of skilled workers that Governor Daugaard has been lamenting for years.  So far his efforts at correcting the situation have gone for naught, a track record that admirably hasn't slowed the Governor's momentum for trying to change the situation.  Turning it into a public-private venture with Sanford is more of the same: The intentions are good.
     However, consistent with a pattern of willfully ignoring the obvious, Build Dakota will probably be another in a long line of ventures that have had marginal--if any--success.  SD Wins, Dakota Roots, Workforce Summits, The Workforce Investment Act itself--none of these have gotten us off the dime of a chronic shortage of skilled workers.  Why haven't they? Because our wages in South Dakota stink. Look at the charts. You have to wonder if paying for the training of skilled workers and demanding that they stay here for three years after graduating is all that much of an inducement for those workers who can find better offers for their skills elsewhere.
      My friend Cory Heidelberger, who continues to prove that his Madville Times is the best political blog in South Dakota, has put some effort into addressing just that concern.  Cory provides some invaluable analysis of how workers like solderers, welders, machine setters and others with technical skills would fare if they got their Build Dakota-provided training, then abandoned South Dakota for any one of our surrounding states, forcing them to pay back their scholie money.  For the most part, they'd come out ahead after just a few years. Others might not consider a three-year hitch in South Dakota to be such a bad idea anyway.  Get free schooling, some job experience, then off they can go to much greener pastures while most likely still in their mid-twenties. A young person bright enough to get a technical education is also bright enough to figure this out. Hoping, as Daugaard does per the Argus-Leader piece I linked above, that these individuals "develop roots, meet a spouse or develop a relationship with an employer that evolves," isn't much of a platform on which to put a $50 million commitment.  That sort of investment demands something sturdier than mere "hope" to justify the risk. Sans some hard analysis and data backing up the "hope" part,  I think Governor Daugaard is once again setting us up for a fall. Expecting young, well-trained, market-sophisticated people to languish in indentured servitude for 3 years in South Dakota while forsaking much better paying work and long term opportunities elsewhere is not so much a "hope" as it is a prayer.
   
   

5 comments:

  1. Pay a decent wage and most of the states worker problems will fix themselves, Seems Daugaard and the ruling party can't see the forest because of the trees.

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    1. Tim, I note that virtually every public utterance that Daugaard has made about our workforce shortage is lacking the word "wages." We just have to keep hammering the point home from venues like these, I guess.

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  2. Most kids are 18 when they graduate from high school, two years in vo-tech and three fulfilling the scholarship work requirements makes them 23 with a technical education and three years experience. Just what an employer wants. If SD businesses want to keep them they better be willing to pay industry competitive wages.

    Nick Nemec

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    1. Any young person who doesn't take the path you describe is acting against his/her best economic interest. Daugaard "hopes" that won't happen, based on what I link above, but I think Daugaard's hope is more like self-deception. I agree, Mr. Nemec, the only way to keep those well-trained and experienced twenty-somethings here in South Dakota is a wage scale that competes against the rest of the country.

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  3. This from Senator Larry Pressler (Ret.), sent to The Constant Commoner via e-mail: "Your article on indentured servitude is right on the mark—can't seem to figure out how to post a comment this morning but keep up good work. Larry"

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