Students Seeking jobs have ‘a lot of options’


Gracie Terrall, Managing Editor

South Dakota State University students returning to Brookings this fall may find it easier to get part-time jobs –and they might even get paid more, too.

As of August 9, there were over 1,050 job openings in the city, according to the Brookings Economic Development Corporation. The majority were in the service industry.

What are the experts saying?

“Right now, it’s kind of an employee market,” said Andrew Sloss, director of the Brookings Economic Development Corp. “If you’re interested in moving to another job or another field, you have the flexibility to do so.”

“Students will have the upper hand,” SDSU economics professor Joseph Santos said. “Everybody’s waiting for these students to come back and fill these jobs.”

“We’re going to move pretty quickly (on hiring) qualified students,” said Leah Brink, Daktronics student and internship program coordinator.

Where are the jobs now?

Most of the open positions are in hospitality and restaurant services. A quick drive around Brookings right now shows that Cottonwood Coffee, Perkins, 3M, Jimmy Johns, Nick’s Hamburgers, Casey’s, Hy-Vee and many other locations are hiring.

Daktronics, a locally owned international company that designs and manufactures video displays, is also hiring.

In the student and internship program at Daktronics, there are three sections of the company. The business side consists of accounting, communications, marketing, etc., and the creative side features less prominent positions like graphic design and copywriting. The final and largest section is the technical and engineering side.

There are about 500 (including full time, non-student) employees on the technical side, Brink said.

“Going into the fall, our needs are going to be pretty distributed between this engineering category and this business category,” she said.

These three areas are selective based on student and intern majors, credits taken and GPA’s. Currently, Daktronics has about 50 student employees. Usually they employ twice that and are working to build those numbers back up, Brink said.

“At SDSU, we have a lot of jobs we’re going to be coming to the job fair with and really hoping that there’s interest from the SDSU student body,” Brink said.

This fall, Daktronics is re-implementing a production worker line it had 10 years ago. It’s open to anyone in the Brookings community. The positions are Monday-Thursday for five hours in the evening.

“It’s not necessarily a career track position. We could take any major, it doesn’t matter your GPA,” Brink said. “We are really needing folks.”

Gashaw Melese, a senior mechanical engineering major from Ethiopia, started working in Daktronics’ manufacturing department this past April.

“I was participating in the campus career fair and I got an (application) form there,” he said. “I was really happy to get the job.”

Why are there so many jobs?

There’s not one distinct answer on why jobs are so plentiful right now, but experts have cited a few theories.

Extended unemployment benefits could be one cause. The pandemic had a big effect on businesses and many had to cut staff. This resulted in many people becoming unemployed for months and relying on the pandemic unemployment benefits from the government.

According to a May 12 press release from the South Dakota Department of Labor, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program stopped its weekly payments of $300 to pandemic-related unemployed South Dakotans June 26, 2021.

The federal unemployment benefits are scheduled to end Sept. 6.

Santos, the SDSU economics professor, said people who work in the service industry are more likely to take advantage of these benefits because they exceed the monthly wages they would receive at a typical service job.

“There’s evidence that if unemployment insurance has had effects on the labor market, it’s had effects on the lowest rungs … of the wage scale … where wages tend to be low,” Santos said. “Unemployment insurance could be a sort of competing source of funding.”

On aververage, waiters, cooks, cashiers and sales workers in South Dakota make between $10-12 hourly, according to the Occupational Employment and Wage Rates reports for South Dakota in 2020.

With the recent end to the state pandemic benefits, Santos suspects job applications to increase.

“Rather than waiting for the federal date in September, several states have said (they’re) going to shut this down now to try to incentivize (job) search,” Santos said.

Santos also said the high level of job openings in Brookings could be caused by the number of students who chose to do remote learning and not return to campus last year.

“If a student, for whatever reason, chose to stay wherever home was, and home wasn’t Brookings, then that’s a person who never ends up applying for that assistantship in Brookings,” Santos said. “The students just aren’t here.”

What are the solutions?

Students returning to campus should help fill many of those job openings.

“When everybody, hopefully, comes back to campus, that means all those students are creating relationships in the community and learning about job opportunities, then maybe next summer they stick around because they want to keep their job,” Santos said.

Increased wages could attract potential employees, said David Chicoine, former SDSU president and economics professor.

“All [employers] have to do, I would think, is raise the wage, and you could attract more part-time workers,” he said.

Chicoine also said that employers tailoring their work shifts around students’ schedules may help. If jobs are inconvenient to class times, he said, that may deter someone from taking the job, and it likely won’t matter what the salary is.

Sloss said an emphasis on mental health resources in the workplace is becoming increasingly more desirable among younger generations in the workforce. While typically recruitment strategies like offering sign-on bonuses, increased wages and other benefits are still beneficial, mental health resources are in higher demand, he said.

“Right now, if you want to work as an employee, this is your time,” Sloss said. “This is your time to choose where you want to work and how you want to work, because people are looking for workers. For college students, you’re going to have a lot of options here in Brookings.”