Progress Being Made in Making Students Aware of Opportunities in Manufacturing

Industry advocates appear to be making headway in getting students to consider careers in manufacturing. Although progress is being made, job opportunities in manufacturing continue to abound in South Dakota and throughout the nation.

Before and after surveys completed last fall by some of the students who competed in a video contest sponsored by South Dakota Manufacturing & Technology Solutions (MTS) indicate an increased willingness to consider manufacturing as a career and an improved perception of the work. The survey was part of an annual “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing” video contest for middle school students across the state.

MTS sponsors the video contest to address misunderstandings about manufacturing jobs and introduce students to the vast career opportunities that exist in fields involving science, technology, engineering, mathematics and skilled trades. Another objective is to make students aware of educational pathways they can take to reach their career aspirations.

Schools and contestants are encouraged to sign up by May 31 to compete in the 2019-2020 video contest. Each student team will be assigned to a manufacturing company in their area. After touring the company and getting an explanation of the products or services it produces, students interview employees to see why they like their jobs and what is “cool” about what they do. The students use the information to produce a two-minute video. Videos are uploaded to the website and are judged by the number of votes they receive online.

The more familiar students are with the transformed industry, the more open they become to working in it, said Sara Byre, a marketing specialist with MTS.

“Today you see more technology, robotics, and innovation than ever before in the manufacturing industry. There are roles in research and design, engineering, technology, supply chain management, operations, quality control and more,” Byre said. “Manufacturing careers are in demand and offer so much potential for growth and high-paying wages. We need to continue to encourage and expose students to the industry so they can gain an understanding of the opportunities available to them.”

The average pay for manufacturing workers in South Dakota, not counting benefits, is more than
$49,000 per year. But keeping up with rising demand for skilled workers in South Dakota and the nation will continue to be a challenge, Byre said.

In 2016, the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation projected the 10 fastest-growing occupations in the state. Among them were computer-controlled machine tool operators, industrial machinery mechanics and machinists. As of February 2019, about 45,500 people in South Dakota were employed in manufacturing, according to the department. The total was up 4.4 percent from the February 2018 total of 43,600.

Finding skilled workers is not just a South Dakota challenge. Byre pointed out that according to a 2018 study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, a skills gap could result in an estimated 2.4 million positions in the U.S. manufacturing industry going unfilled between 2018 and 2028.

“We’re definitely making an effort to close the gap in South Dakota by exposing students to manufacturing and also by helping manufacturers implement more automation in their facilities to address the lack of workforce,” she said.

For more information about the video contest and MTS, contact Byre at (605) 366-5732 or