Eight young people across the Pine Ridge Reservation are currently participating in a construction internship program that is facilitated in partnership with Lakota Funds and the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition. In mid-June, the interns were placed among three local building contractors – Lakota Cabins, Mendoza Construction, and Sod’s Mechanical – and have been learning a variety of construction skills, including concrete, flooring, drywall, painting, and HVAC.
“The goal of the program is to prepare the youth for successful careers in the building trades,” says Ellen White Thunder, Asset Development Specialist at Lakota Funds, who is facilitating the program.
By the time the internship ends in August, the participants will gain 400 hours of on-the-job work experience, complete a financial literacy component, and receive certifications in OSHA 10 and First Aid, CPR, & AED. White Thunder says those will be critical additions to the interns’ resumes that will make them stand out to firms looking to hire crew members. One intern, Cecil Little Hawk III, has already received a job offer through the internship program.
“I will have more options than I did before. I was offered a job, and I am looking forward to working for them,” says Little Hawk of his internship experience.
The construction internship program was born out of collaborative discussions facilitated by the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition. The program was developed as a solution to increase housing stock – and ultimately homeownership rates – in the state’s reservation communities. Enabandaug Janis, who is interning with Lakota Cabins, embraces the big picture community impact of the program.
Janis reflects, “You get to learn to build the future – both for yourself and others. The trades build the world.”
The internship program officially launched in 2017 with locations on the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Reservations and has since grown to include the Rosebud and Lake Traverse Reservations. In its first five years of operation, 120 youth completed the statewide program and over 50% of them received offers for full-time, permanent jobs. Last year, 100% of the young people who completed the Pine Ridge internships received job offers.
“The data shows just how impactful the program is at building our local trades workforce, which is an essential component of a healthy economy and community,” says White Thunder.