Jodi Schwan talks with retiring Sioux Falls Development Foundation workforce development specialist Mary Medema about what it takes to meet the demand for labor in Sioux Falls. Whatever efforts Medema and the Foundation have made appear not to have stopped the local labor market from going in circles:
JS: So, nearly 19 years. Do you remember what the biggest workforce-related issue was here when you started the job?
MM: The tight labor market and a shortage of workers — almost exactly what it is now — skilled workers, most particular for manufacturing, construction and other trades like that. In 1999, the year-end unemployment rate was 1.9 percent in our area, less than it is today, so I’d say I’ve been through three major cycles [Jodi Schwann, “A Workforce Development Wish List,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.07.23].
Storyteller Schwan at least acknowledges that we won’t recruit workers by telling more stories:
Stop saying — and believing — that most of our workforce woes will be taken care of if we just do a better job of telling our story. I advocate storytelling as much as anyone — and this community does have a terrific story — but that alone will not stack up against some of the other vibrant cities in the marketplace. Getting us there takes real investment in downtown, parks, recreation, education at all levels, the arts and housing diversity. We’ve done a lot. We need to do more [Schwan, 2016.07.23].
Neither Schwan nor Medema mention the one factor that could beat all others in recruiting and retaining workers: higher pay. Neither Schwan nor Medema mentions the word wages or salary in their printed conversation. Sioux Falls businesses are apparently willing to plunge millions of dollars into marketing and turning our schools into their training facilities. But they won’t turn from their Rube Goldberg machine and hand that money directly to the employees who create their value. Thus, they face the same workforce shortage they did nineteen years ago.