National Apprenticeship Week: Building South Dakota’s workforce

Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 6:12 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - It’s National Apprenticeship Week, which is an opportunity to shine a light on how apprentice programs are helping workers get a footing in the industry of their choice.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, chapters of the local carpenters union, 49ers union and more came together Friday in Sioux Falls for National Apprenticeship Week, celebrating all those who help make the programs possible.

Kory Rawstern with the South Dakota Federation of Labor believes the South Dakota Start Today Apprenticeship Program and apprenticeships as a whole can strengthen the state’s workforce.

“Obviously, there’s a shortage of workers everywhere. It’s not just Sioux Falls, it’s not just South Dakota — it’s nationwide. This is an opportunity for us to actually create workforces right here in South Dakota,” Rawstern said.

Rawstern says apprenticeships are beneficial for everyone. Employers get skilled labor, and apprentices gain knowledge while limiting costs.

“Most all of them are zero debt, zero or limited cost to the students as they earn a 2-year to 5-year degree to be able to become a journeyman status person,” Rawstern said.

One person who’s seen the value of apprenticeship first-hand is Ross Bonesteel.

“I found that having to work 40 hours and then pay for school and pay for rent wasn’t really working out for me. The apprenticeship program offered me the ability to work and get paid while still getting the same education that I would through a two-year tech school,” said Bonesteel, an electrical apprentice.

The students learn in the classroom setting, but what they hang their hat on is their facilities, helping provide the ability to recreate job-like situations.

“Maybe they got a question that came up on the job site, and they don’t know how to learn from it. So this here brings them into that setting to where they can break it down and say, ‘This is how everything works, and this is why it works,’” said Shane Larson, the membership development coordinator with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“Makes a world of difference being able to actually work with your hands. Most of us here are probably able to learn better by working with our hands than we would just sitting in a classroom for eight hours a day,” Bonesteel said.

The students also have the opportunity to work full- or part-time as a member of their corresponding union.

“Provides a great cushion for me and my family to have all those benefits that come along with having a union backing. To be able to provide health insurance and everything for my wife and my kid,” Bonesteel said.