Marcia Hultman

Cabinet Secretary

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South Dakota e-Labor Bulletin

September 2022

South Dakota Occupational Employment Projections to 2030

As mentioned in last month’s e-Labor Bulletin article, South Dakota’s employment is projected to increase by 8.5% overall during the 2020-2030 decade, adding just over 41,100 new jobs to the state’s economy. While that article focused on employment projections by industry (where people work), this article will focus on employment projections by occupation (what people do on the job). Specifically, it will explore the 10 occupations projected to show the fastest growth in South Dakota to 2030.

South Dakota and U.S. Employment Snapshot for 2020-2030

U.S. occupational employment is projected to increase 7.7% from 2020-2030, from 153.5 million jobs in 2020 to 165.4 million in 2030. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment at the national level is projected to increase or remain the same in 626 detailed occupations and decline in 164 detailed occupations.

Comparatively, South Dakota’s occupational growth is projected to be faster than the nation for the 2020-2030 decade at 8.5%. The Labor Market Information Center (LMIC) released projections for 521 detailed occupations. Employment for 467 occupations is projected to increase or remain the same, while 54 occupations are projected to decline.

LMIC completed the 2020-2030 statewide projections using the nationally adopted projections methodology, which allows for comparability of this data across states, as well as to the nation. This methodology incorporates historical time-series employment data as well as state and national economic trends and utilizes a variety of statistical models.

It is important to note: a general assumption is made no major catastrophic event or natural disaster will significantly affect the economic activities of the occupations during the projections period. An example of a catastrophic event would be the COVID-19 pandemic, which rocked the United States and the world in 2020. Even though past projections would not and could not account for the ramification of this pandemic, and there was no way to predict for it, this round of employment projections was and continues to be impacted by the pandemic. Though most of the occupational growth we will be looking at for South Dakota was not necessarily directly an impact of the pandemic, some of it was. For those occupations impacted by the pandemic, we will examine the reasons they were either directly or indirectly impacted.

It is important to keep in mind most businesses in South Dakota did not shut down due to the pandemic. Many who did shut down were closed for a short while to assess and address safety issues and concerns and develop a different business approach which would allow them to remain open while keeping employees and customers as safe as possible. While many states’ and the nation’s occupational projections look very different this round, South Dakota’s projections, like the state, weathered the pandemic well. While there were a few speed bumps we will analyze, for the most part we continue to find our projections moving at about the same trajectory we were headed before the pandemic.

Early on in the pandemic the Labor Market Information Center stated whether or not the pandemic of 2020 would significantly impact future rounds of projections would depend on how long the downturn in the economy lasts and how well state and national labor markets recover from its effects. That still remains true. In this and a follow up article on projected occupational demand, we will analyze where South Dakota occupations will be headed in the future.
At a macro level, two factors affect employment change in an occupation:

  1. Changes in industry employment. This is easy to understand. If an industry’s employment grows or contracts, occupations within the industry will do the same.
  2. Changes in the mix of occupations (commonly known as a staffing pattern) in an industry. This factor is more complicated and requires more research and analysis. Research includes examining historical staffing pattern data and analyzing factors which may affect the mix of occupations within the given industry.

Some examples of micro level factors include but are not limited to demographics, technology, replacement of one product or service for another, outsourcing and organizational/work restructuring. Many of the occupations on South Dakota’s top 10 fastest growing list are growing due to one or more of these micro-factors.

  • Demographics. Demographic data refers to data which is statistically socio-economic in nature, such as age of the population, race, income, educational attainment and employment. The data vary by geographic location and often over time. South Dakota’s demographics play a definite role in the state’s economic landscape.
  • Technology. Changes in technology, such as new machines or software, can affect the growth of an occupation. Technology can increase productivity, which usually leads to the need for fewer workers, or in some cases even eliminates the need for workers all together. However, on the flip side, technology can bring with it the advent of new or emerging occupations, which creates new jobs. Very often, technology can cause a decrease in one occupation while creating a demand for a different occupation within the same industry. An industry may expand or contract, or it may remain at the same employment level; but because of technological changes in the industry, the occupational composition can change significantly.
  • Replacement of one service or product for another. Changes in the need or preference for different services and/or products by consumers can also affect the growth of an occupation.
  • Organizational/work restructuring. A change in job duties can result in the same output but increases/decreases the utilization of some occupations relative to others within the same industry. These changes cause occupations to grow at different rates. Many times, organizational/work restructuring results in the consolidation of job duties.

South Dakota’s Major Occupational Groups

There are 22 major occupational groups. All of South Dakota’s major occupational groups are expected to add jobs over the projected decade. Fourteen of these groups are projected to show growth as fast or faster than the state average.

South Dakota’s computer and mathematical occupations (16%), food preparation and serving related occupations (13%) and health care practitioners and technical occupations (12%) are projected to be among some of the fastest growing occupational groups during the 2020-2030 projections decade. When combined these three major groups account for most of the top 10 fastest growing occupations in South Dakota.

Factors such as the increased need by individuals and businesses for information security and technology and an aging population, longer life expectancies, and growing rates of chronic conditions will continue to be driving forces in the demand for computer technology and health related occupations. Another reason health care services in South Dakota will continue to see fast occupational growth is the influx of population. Each year United Van Lines conducts a national migration study which reveals where and why Americans move. In the 44th study (which occurred in 2020) South Dakota ranked 4th in the nation for inbound migration. In the 2021 study, South Dakota jumped from fourth to second (68%) for inbound migration.

Strong inbound migration is not a new phenomenon for South Dakota. Inbound migration has been on the uptick for the past few years, even though neighboring states have experienced either balanced in-to-out migration or moderate out-migration rates. What is new is the brisk pace at which it has picked up. In 2018 South Dakota was tied with North Carolina for 8th and 9th place in inbound migration according to the United Van Lines study. In 2020, South Dakota moved into fourth place, and in 2021 it was second only to Vermont.

“For 45 years now, our annual United Van Lines study, with its data-driven insights, has allowed us to explore a deeper understanding of Americans’ overall migration patterns,” Eily Cummings, director of corporate communications at United Van Lines said. “As the pandemic continues to impact our day-to-day, we’re seeing that lifestyle changes – including the increased ability to work from home – and wanting to be closer to family are key factors in why Americans are moving today.”

When polled by United Van Lines for this study, the statistics indicate 52% of those who responded said they were looking to live closer to family and/or because of the lifestyle offered to them in South Dakota. Thirty-three percent said they moved because they were looking for or had a job, 20% said they wanted to retire here and 11% sited cost of living. Four percent indicated health was their primary reason for moving to South Dakota in 2021. These statistics may not total 100% due to respondents having the ability to opt out of answering survey questions and/or to select more than one survey response per question.

With South Dakota’s population growth, occupations in health services will continue to grow to meet the demand for these services. And this growth is evident as health care related occupations dominate the top 10 fastest growing occupations through 2030 list.

South Dakota’s Top 10 Fastest Growing Occupations to 2030

Occupational employment is expected to increase by 8.5% in South Dakota between 2020 and 2030. The table below features the 10 occupations projected to grow the fastest. The narrative following the table explores the reasons for the predicted growth.

We defined fastest growing occupations as those with employment of at least 100 workers during the base year, which is 2020 this projections cycle, and the highest percent change of employment between 2020 and 2030. Keep in mind, fastest growing does not necessarily mean many new jobs. However, because of the role fastest growing occupations play in the occupational and economic landscape, whether many or a few, occupations all are important and noteworthy.

South Dakota Occupational Employment Projections 2020-2030
Top Ten in Percent Growth
Rank Occupation 2020 Workers 2030 Workers Actual Change Percent Growth
  Total, All Occupations 483,893 525,014 41,121 8.5%
1 Wind Turbine Service Technicians 273 483 210 76.9%
2 Nurse Practitioners 604 936 332 55.0%
3 Cooks, Restaurant 1,440 2,058 618 42.9%
4 Information Security Analysts 431 613 182 42.2%
5 Physical Therapist Assistants 273 364 91 33.3%
6 Occupational Therapy Assistants 104 138 34 32.7%
7 Respiratory Therapists 342 447 105 30.7%
8 Physician Assistants 523 681 158 30.2%
9 Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers 2,649 3,440 791 29.9%
10 Industrial Machinery Mechanics 1,119 1,452 333 29.8%


Data is preliminary and subject to revision.

Fastest growing occupations are defined as those occupations with employment of 100 or more workers in the base year (2020 Workers) and the highest percent change in employment from 2020 to 2030.

Source: Labor Market Information Center, South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation, July 2022.

Wind Turbine Service Technicians

South Dakota’s fastest growing occupation is a relatively new occupation to a relatively new industry. In 2003 South Dakota’s first wind farm was established. As more wind turbines have dotted South Dakota’s horizon, Wind Turbine Service Technicians have been added to South Dakota occupational ranks at a high velocity as well. Windtechs, as they are commonly referred to, install, maintain and repair wind turbines. These workers work on wind turbines which are large mechanical devices which convert wind energy into electricity. The turbine is made up of three major components: a tower, three blades and a nacelle, which is composed of an outer case, generator, gearbox and brakes. Wind turbine service technicians install and repair the components of these structures.

Windtechs are projected to see a whirlwind of growth from 2020 to 2030, increasing by 77% in South Dakota. This occupation is growing at a slightly faster pace in South Dakota than nationally. However, nationwide this industry is slated to see a tornado of activity as well, with projected growth of 68%.

Nurse Practitioners

Coming in at number two on South Dakota’s fastest growing list to 2030 is the Nurse Practitioner occupation, boasting a 55% change in employment. This occupation has been seeing fast growth for the last few years, and this round of projections is not showing any sign of it slowing down. Some may question whether the growth in this occupation is related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps a small portion of the growth on a short-term basis might be contributed to the pandemic, but it is doubtful it will continue to see growth directly because of the pandemic.

As in past years of substantial growth, South Dakota’s demographics will likely account for the lion’s share of the growth. As our population increases and ages, the need for Nurse Practitioners will continue to grow.

And, while demographics certainly plays a part in the growth of this occupation in South Dakota, just as important is the state’s cultural structure. South Dakota, though growing at a significant clip, still remains a rural state with unique small state growing pains. While many of the state’s small to midsized cities are seeing significant and diverse population growth, they are still not in a position to become a healthcare hub. In order to meet the healthcare needs of their citizens, these communities provide rural health care facilities manned by Nurse Practitioners. These practitioners work with doctors throughout the state’s larger health care systems (as well as specialists across the nation/world) to provide their clients with the best and most affordable health care possible. Virtual visits and conference calls became the norm during the pandemic and are fast becoming the preferred way to stave off everyday ailments and handle follow-up appointments. Many patients who used to travel great distances for medical treatment can now do most of their doctoring, even for serious illnesses, right in their own hometown thanks, in part, to Nurse Practitioners. Some of these workers even take their services right to their patients. The elderly, shut-ins and those recovering from serious illnesses, injuries or operations often have nobody to take them to follow-up or even regular checkups. This is where the traveling Nurse Practitioners come in. Some of these workers travel great distances to see and treat their patients.

South Dakota is not the only state enjoying the luxury of health care right at home. Nationally, this versatile occupation is projected to see a growth rate of 45%.

Restaurant Cooks

Coming in as the third fastest growing occupation in South Dakota is Restaurant Cooks. Much of the fast growth this occupation will see over the next decade is most likely due to changes which occurred in this industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though most businesses in South Dakota did not shut down due to the pandemic, some did, and eating and drinking establishments were among those who voluntarily shut their doors, at least for a time, during the worst part of the pandemic. As soon as employers had safety protocols in place so they could keep staff and customers safe, they were up and running again. But some business practices changed dramatically. Some businesses began to cater meals and provide delivery options. Others provided limited menus and added outdoor eating areas. Some restaurants regulated the number of patrons in their establishment. For those restaurants where drive through service was a viable option, they often shut eating areas and limited lobby use.

But as people have either reached natural immunity or been vaccinated, South Dakota restaurants eagerly opened their doors again to long-time and new customers alike. After sheltering in place most people were hungry for the comfort, comradery and sense of return to normal only their favorite eating places could fulfill. As business returned, employers once again expanded their menus and added new services while returning to their more traditional ways of doing business. In addition, restaurants have found a new niche as the influx of more people with diverse tastes and ethnic backgrounds has led to an explosion of demand for new and tasty eating options throughout South Dakota. Many of the state’s midsized and small towns are beginning to see more than just their normal restaurants and cafés, chain fast-food drive-in and pizza joints; new niche and ethnic eating establishments are opening their doors as well.

While much of the 43% growth of Restaurant Cooks will likely occur early on in this projections cycle as establishments navigate to their new normal following the pandemic, South Dakota will continue to see good growth in this occupation throughout the projection period.

Information Security Analysts

Information Security Analysts work in a variety of industries to plan and carry out security measures to protect an organization’s computer networks and systems. Their responsibilities are continually expanding as the number and types of cyberattacks and skills of hackers continue to increase.

These analysts take the number four spot in South Dakota’s fastest growing occupations list. This projected growth is outpacing the nation’s projected growth for this occupation. South Dakota is projecting growth of 42%, and nationally Information Security Analysts are projected to grow by 33%.

It is expected demand for this occupation will be very high through 2030. As cyberattacks have grown in frequency, the demand for managed security has increased. These analysts will be depended upon for innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or creating problems for networks.

Physical Therapist Assistants

Physical Therapist Assistants, sometimes called PTAs, work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients recovering from injuries and illnesses to regain movement and manage pain. These assistants treat patients through exercise, massage, gait and balance training and other therapeutic interventions. They record patients’ progress and report the results of each treatment to the physical therapist.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s South Dakota profile, the median age in South Dakota was 37.2 in the 2020 American Community Survey, compared to the nation’s median age of 38.2. According to the same survey, 16.7% of South Dakotans were 65 years of age compared to 16.0% at the national level. Both at the national and statewide level our population is continuing to grow older.

As our population ages and continues to increase in size, demand for physical therapy is expected to increase along with health care needs. Physical Therapist Assistants are projected to round out the top five occupations, with a growth rate of 33% in South Dakota through 2030.

Occupational Therapy Assistants

Coming in at number six on the top 10 list of the fastest growing occupations in South Dakota from 2020-2030 are Occupational Therapy Assistants. These assistants work with patients and help them develop, recover, improve and maintain the skills needed for daily living after the patient has suffered a traumatic event. Events can include, but are not limited to, an accident, disease such as a stroke or heart attack, or surgery such as hip replacement, etc.

Like the fast-paced growth of Physical Therapist Assistants, most of the growth in this occupation (33%) will be in order to keep up with the demand of South Dakota’s aging population as well as the influx of people migrating into the state. Regardless of age, a larger population equates to more health care needs. In addition to an older and larger population, some of the growth in this occupation is because of the availability of these workers to patients. As more insurance companies cover the expense of this therapy, the demand for these workers has increased. Not too many years ago a broken hip would likely have resulted in a move to a nursing home. However, with medical advancements and treatments, today after a successful surgery many people can return to their everyday lives with the help of these assistants to rehabilitate.

And, finally, some of the growth for Occupational Therapist Assistants will be economic in nature. Healthcare providers, especially those specializing in long-term care, will continue to employ these assistants to reduce the cost of occupational therapy services. After the therapist has evaluated a patient and designed a treatment plan, the Occupational Therapy Assistant provides many aspects of the treatment the therapist prescribed.

Respiratory Therapists

Health related occupations take up several of the top 10 fastest growing occupational slots in South Dakota. Coming in at number seven are Respiratory Therapists. These therapists are expected to grow at nearly four times the state rate for all occupations at 31% from 2020 to 2030. Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing for a variety of reasons, ranging from acute COVID-19 health related issues to chronic respiratory diseases such as, asthma or emphysema. Other types of patients range from premature infants with under-developed lungs to those suffering from heart attack, drowning or shock.

South Dakota is following the national trend of much faster than the average growth in this occupation. Continued growth of the middle-aged and elderly population is anticipated to lead to increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia, which are lifelong disorders and permanently damage lungs and restrict lung function.

And finally, growth in this occupation is occurring because these therapists are increasingly found in more types of establishments. Just a few years ago most Respiratory Therapists worked in hospitals; today it is becoming common to find these workers in nursing homes, doctors’ offices and clinics. Not only is it more convenient for residents and patients, but it cuts down on hospital readmissions, which lowers medical expenses for treatment.

Physician Assistants

Physician Assistants provide health care services typically performed by a physician, under the supervision of a physician or a surgeon. They conduct complete physicals, provide treatment and counsel patients. They may, in some cases, prescribe medication. These workers must graduate from an accredited educational program for Physician Assistants. The training they receive is the primary difference between Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners. Like Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants fill gaps in medical services physicians and/or surgeons are either too busy to complete, or the demand for services is higher than the supply of physicians and surgeons. Physician Assistants’ employment is projected to grow fast, increasing by 30% from 2020 to 2030. The reasons for the fast growth in employment are mirroring that of Nurse Practitioners in South Dakota.

Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers

Applications Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers are projected to grow at nearly 30% from 2020 to 2030 in South Dakota. This occupation is expected to grow faster in South Dakota than even the nation’s expected fast-paced rate of 22%. Unlike most of the occupations we have just looked at, these developers, analysts and testers work in a wide variety of industries, not just one industry. Therefore, the quick clip at which this occupation is growing is caused by many different reasons.

First and foremost, this occupation is growing due to technological changes occurring in nearly every industry and aspect of our lives. Whether it is a virtual gaming system, smart watch, or home security service, to a refrigerator which makes a grocery list for you and sends it to your smart phone when you walk into your favorite grocery, they all run off software applications.

In South Dakota, many government and private employers hire these workers to develop software relevant to their business or the services they offer their clients and/or customers. The health and medical insurance and reinsurance carriers’ industry will need innovative software to manage new healthcare policy enrollments and administer existing policies digitally. Some developers work on a contract basis and may enjoy living in South Dakota while programming for a client halfway around the world.

Concerns over threats to computer security could result in more investment in security software to protect computer networks and electronic infrastructure.
Technology is here to stay and filtering into everyday life in ways few would have thought of just a few years ago. Because this occupation can be found in so many industries (including workers who are self-employed and work on a contract basis) and virtually in any location, this occupation is projected to see strong growth nationally and in South Dakota for a long time to come.

Industrial Machinery Mechanics

Industrial Machinery Mechanics maintain and repair factory equipment and other industrial machinery, such as conveying systems, production machinery and packaging equipment. They keep machines in working order by detecting and correcting issues and errors before the machine or products it produces is damaged.
This occupation is projected to see swift growth through 2030 in South Dakota at nearly 30%. This is much faster than the overall statewide projected growth rate of 8.5% and also outpaces the national growth rate prediction of 19% during that same time frame.

The continuing adoption of automated manufacturing machinery will require more Industrial Machinery Mechanics to keep machines in good working order over the next decade. The use of automated conveyors to move products and materials in factories is an area of high demand for these workers because the conveyor belts, motors and rollers need regular care and maintenance. As production equipment is designed to perform more tasks and continue to be more automated, the skills these workers possess will remain in high demand.

Where to Find More Information on South Dakota Occupational Employment Projections for 2020-20230

The employment projections through 2030 recently completed for 521 detailed occupations by the LMIC are available on our website from the occupational projections menu page. For more background information about the projections, please visit our technical notes page.