Regents Wage Dashboard Challenges Vo-Tech Marketing Assertions, Confirm SD Pays Less

State-favored ad maker Lawrence & Schiller is promoting the Build Dakota vo-tech scholarship on unreliable wage data. If they really wanted to encourage kids to become welders and construction managers instead of biologists and accountants (but remind me: how many kids who really like animals or numbers are going to abandon those interests for metal and strip malls?), Lawrence & Schiller at least could have sought some robust, state-approved data…

…like the wonderful Occupational Wage database included in the spiffy new South Dakota Board of Regents dashboards! Those serious Regental researchers don’t base their dashboards on some intern’s casual Googling of inscrutable and shifting Web data; when they want to talk wages, they get solid data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So how do the occupations Lawrence & Schiller chose to place in competition stack up for wages in the SDBOR data?

Occupation Avg. SD Salary Avg. Nat’l Salary
Bookkeeping, Accounting, & Auditing Clerks $29,520* $37,250
Biological Tech. $32,320* $43,710
Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers $32,380* $39,110
Welding, Soldering, & Brazing Mach. Setters $34,470 $35,800
Zoologists & Wildlife Biologists $49,330 $62,610
Microbiologists $55,620 $75,230
Biological Scientists, All Other $58,070 $75,160
Accountants & Auditors** $60,000 $73,670
Biological Science Teachers, Postsec. $76,890 $87,080
Construction Manager $88,140 $94,590

*Lowest in the U.S.
**Not in SDBOR database; obtained directly from BLS.

Yes, indeed, construction manager is a pretty good job, topping accountants and any of the explicitly biology-related jobs in the SDBOR database. Construction manager even draws a salary in South Dakota that is unusually competitive with the national average, just 7% under what one could make elsewhere. That’s one of the few jobs not promising South Dakota workers a double-digit-percentage pay cut over what they could make outside our state. But remember: if all you do to become a construction manager is go to a two-year program at a South Dakota vo-tech school, you’re likely to supervise smaller projects and draw smaller paychecks. BLS says employers are looking for four-year degrees in construction management. Plus, South Dakota offers the fewest jobs for construction managers in the nation. Pitching “construction manager” as a great job for South Dakota vo-tech students thus misses two key realities of that job market.

Now consider welders. Neither the SDBOR database nor BLS list any data for “master welder,” the category Lawrence & Schiller uses to boost the job Governor Dennis Daugaard promotes the most in his public statements on South Dakota’s educational and workforce opportunities. As Steve Young pointed out, master welder, like construction manager, generally requires education well beyond the two-year vo-tech programs Lawrence & Schiller is promoting for the Governor. The regular welding jobs one can get with those vo-tech diplomas earn a little more than biological technicians, but they earn far less than zoologist, wildlife biologists, microbiologists, and other biological scientists. At the top of the field, biology professors earn more than twice as much as welders.

Speaking of the Governor and professors and earning power, how do some of the lovers of humanities whom our Governor so frequently discourages do in earning power?

Occupation Avg. SD Salary Avg. Nat’l Salary
Writers & Authors $40,040 $69,250
English Lang. & Lit. Teachers, Postsec. $59,170 $68,360
Philosophy & Religion Teachers, Postsec. $62,520 $72,200

Believe it or not, good writing can pay off in South Dakota more than good welding. And if you’re good enough to teach, well, you still won’t catch those construction managers, but you’ll be building minds, not Applebee’s.

The Board of Regents offers solid, searchable data with quickly understandable graphic representations for anyone interested in searching the real earning power of various jobs in South Dakota. Why would Lawrence & Schiller ignore this useful data? First, the vo-techs probably would have gone ape to have their programs promoted with data from a Regental website. Second, the Regents’ data confirm that South Dakota pays less for darn near every job than the national average. Third, the Regents say about those low wages what the Governor and everyone else in power in South Dakota seems to ignore when it comes to workforce and economic development:

Strong occupational wages are an essential prerequisite for meaningful economic growth.  Firms seeking to attract and retain talented workers must be able and willing to offer competitive wages, particularly in the context of an increasingly national (and often global) labor market.  High wages also serve national, state, and local economies through increased consumer spending and tax revenues [SDBOR Occupational Wages Dashboard, downloaded 2015.04.20].

Boy, those Regents, they may be too smart for their own good.

Related Cost-of-Living Reading: Don’t forget my December 2014 analysis of how well the South Dakota earning power of welding and other jobs promoted by the Build Dakota Scholarship stacks up against comparable jobs in neighboring states.


One Response to Regents Wage Dashboard Challenges Vo-Tech Marketing Assertions, Confirm SD Pays Less

  1. Deb Geelsdottir

    Better pay combined with ACA health care, fiscally supported schools, infrastructure, . . . . Remind me again. Why do they think anyone comes to SD, and stays?