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Many South Dakota state government jobs are hard to fill

South Dakota State Employee Organization Executive Director blames low wages, high insurance costs

  • Updated
South Dakota Capitol building

The South Dakota Capitol. (file)

At last count, the South Dakota state government had 118 advertised job openings, up 35 from one month earlier. And seasonal and intern employment won’t peak until summer.

“Based on the majority of budget hearing testimony this legislative session, almost all - if not all - reported higher than normal turnover and that it is increasing, while there is an increasing inability to fill positions,” said Eric Ollila, executive director South Dakota State Employee Organization.

“They are indicating, 1. - substandard and undermarket compensation, 2. - lack of regular wages that can be counted on, and 3. - increased cost of health insurance,” Ollila said. According to Ollila, the executive branch hires the vast majority of state positions. Based on the public versus private markets, 97 percent of the executive branch job pay is undermarket.

“It would be nice to have a regular benefit improvement strategy; one that is not dependent on the latest crop of legislators,” Ollila said. “State workers need this for their own family budgeting. The difference between state and private pay is state pay is set by legislators who do not necessarily understand financially where state employees are. What I’ve heard is that hiring and retainment difficulties are on all levels of state government - from janitors to engineers - across the entire spectrum.”

Ollila did point out that currently state employees do not pay for their own individual health insurance, but do pay for dependents, and for those dependents there are deductible increases and less-desirable plan changes. Ollila did qualify, though, that the Legislative Research Council is offering pay rates that could be a bit overmarket.

Mackenzie Decker is manager of communications and internal affairs, South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation. According to Decker and the Labor Market Information Center, a snapshot in time shows 15,803 online advertised job openings statewide on January 31, with 26,085 openings for all of December 2018. The number of online advertised jobs openings with the state of South Dakota statewide on Dec. 31, 2018 were 83. The month’s records for state government are not available. An area profile for current jobs by employer shows the state had 118 job openings listed Jan. 31, 2019. The state of South Dakota ranked 10th among employers for the number of job openings, with the top three employers being in the health industry.

“The number varies from day to day,” said Heather Perry, director of employee and organizational development South Dakota Bureau of Human Resources. “Over 90 percent of state government permanent positions are full-time positions. Seasonal and intern employees reach peak numbers in the summer months.”

According to the most recent Workforce Fact Sheet, of the 13,078 state employees, the average state employee is 44 years old, was hired when they were 33, thus has 11 years of state service and has 13.5 years until retirement, and currently earns $47,737 per year. In 2012 and 2018, state employees received no salary adjustments. In the years between, they received annual two-to-three percent increases. For 2019, salary adjustments are 1.2 percent. Only six percent of state employees are in the 18-24 age bracket, while three percent 65 and older are still working.

“The starting wage for state government jobs varies, depending on the job. Any qualification required of job incumbents depends on the job. As one might expect, the largest departments in the state - Social Services, Transportation, and Corrections - typically have the largest numbers of openings,” Perry said.

Perry continued the sales pitch for people to interview for a government position. “The state of South Dakota offers a wide variety of occupations spanning almost every career type and has jobs in every county in the state. While the types of current openings will vary from day to day, we do encourage applicants to check our jobs pages frequently or register for our listserve to receive a weekly email with the previous week’s postings. We offer great benefits, generous leave policies, flexible work opportunities and the chance to create a career in our great state. You can learn more about the benefits package by visiting our website.

Ollila does promote one aspect of state employment. “One of the great things about my position, is I have the best people to represent,” Ollila said. “SDSEO is to look out after state employees. We are not only working for our members, but all state employees.”