Marcia Hultman

Cabinet Secretary

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South Dakota e-Labor Bulletin

May 2023

South Dakota featured in national blog for success in connecting individuals with second chances

The Department of Labor and Regulation was recently featured in a blog hosted by WorkforceGPS, a website created to help build the capacity of America's public workforce investment system through tools and information sharing. Sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor, WorkforceGPS was developed specifically for workforce professionals, educators and business leaders. 

The blog post spotlighting South Dakota included an interview with Kendra Ringstmeyer, Director of Workforce Development for DLR, who shared success stories of using Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act . The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides $3.6 billion a year to help states develop a pipeline of talented workers. Through a Yes, WIOA Can! Campaign, WorkforceGPS shed light on how WIOA can be used to further innovation, equity and job quality.

Specifically in the blog post, Ringstmeyer shared how South Dakota turned WIOA funds into opportunities for job seekers who had been incarcerated. "Incarcerated individuals are an underrepresented labor pool," Ringstmeyer said. "We recognized the opportunity to equip this population with skills needed in the South Dakota workforce. Even with barriers, these participants are eager to gain new skills and successfully begin new careers. The more support we can provide in re-entry planning, the smoother the transition for the individual returning to their community and entering the workforce."

In Spring 2022, DLR, along with partners Department of Corrections (DOC), Department of Education, Board of Technical Education and Lake Area Technical College, collaborated to offer short-term post-secondary credentials for incarcerated individuals. A precision machining lab was built at the South Dakota Women’s Prison. Lake Area Technical College offered the Precision Machining instruction to a cohort of 10 students. This 18-credit-hour course leads to a certificate from an accredited South Dakota technical college. Occupational employment and demand projections as well as wage data from the Labor Market Information Center were used to help identify a high-demand career field for the program.

Throughout the semester, participants received ongoing case management as a component of their re-entry planning. This included assistance to secure housing, a direct linkage to service providers in their communities, resume and interview assistance, and support with job searching. The established relationship with DLR resulted in a stable connection to support the students as they reintegrated into the South Dakota workforce.

DLR, DOC and the technical colleges have since expanded this model and partnership to cohorts of currently incarcerated students who attend classes at Southeast Technical College to earn a certificate in Flux Fore Arc Welding, Western Dakota Technical College for Construction Technology, and Regional Technical Education Center for Basic and Advanced Welding. One year into the program, 29 individuals have earned their certificates, and another 35 are currently in their program of study.

More Measures of Success

Since the partnership was formed in Spring 2022, 33 incarcerated individuals have participated in the one-semester program (16 weeks), with 28 individuals anticipated to start in Spring 2023. Twenty-nine individuals have earned a certificate through a South Dakota technical college in either Precision Machining or Flux Fore Arc Welding.

Of the nine students who have been released from prison, all nine had job offers prior to their release. Four individuals have continued their education upon release, and two individuals completed on-the-job training in South Dakota.

Personal Testimony of Success

One participant wrote after completing the program:

"I love to share my story. I was part of the very first cohort pursuing the Precision Machining certificate from Lake Area Technical College at the South Dakota Women’s Prison. As much as I would like to erase that part of my story, it has given me so much strength, courage, and a skill I never thought I would have. We learned from one of the best instructors and had so much support from many, including DLR. I was so worried when I left [prison in] Pierre I would have a hard time finding a career again and providing for my family. But I was hired before I was released as a service administrator for an electrical and power transmission manufacturer. I may not physically work on a mill or a lathe, but this certification gave me confidence, wisdom, and the industrial language and context to be successful in this role. I will forever be grateful for the Precision Machining program and the support I received throughout. It came at a really dark time in my life and opened more doors than I could have imagined!”

Visit the DLR website to learn more about workforce services available to individuals as well as recruitment and hiring resources for employers.