At Ady Advantage, we understand the value of engaging with employers to understand the talent base of a region. This is a crucial part of the process when our team leads talent assessments for communities. And as workforce challenges speed up in the wake of the pandemic, strategic thinking and planning in these ‘unprecedented’ times, requires agility and innovation. Which is why Black Hills State University’s Advantage Program caught our attention.

Academia gets a bad rap when it comes to being agile, forward-thinking, or inventive. But leading-edge universities understand that now is the time to be innovative. Aligning academic offerings with regional workforce needs does not sound groundbreaking. However, Black Hills State University (BHSU) took the concept one step further developing a certificate program focused on developing skills, not earning credits.

New leadership at the University naturally zeroed in on existing industries in healthcare, tourism, and forestry/natural biology. In speaking with employers though, the BHSU team discovered their regional talent base lacked skills not taught in any degree programs.

Identifying the Issue

The University partnered with Elevate Rapid City to identify the top skills needs in the region using traditional research and interviews. They discovered that sales and customer service were in demand, but training was not available.  After gauging interest from key companies in the region, BHSU determined enough need and interest existed to pursue a solution.

Solving the Problem

  • The University did not have an accredited sales program, nor did the team see a way to insert it into accredited curriculum. Therefore, BHSU developed a non-accredited, non-degree seeking certificate program open to anyone.
  • The main driver came from companies who hired on new sales recruits but did not have an in-house training program. The training needs were the basics of sales regardless of the company, such as prospecting, client relations, pitch building, and closing.
  • The University sought employer input through surveys and interviews before the program was established. The employers’ feedback in turn formed the curriculum and company leaders became the program teachers.
  • Always looking to improve the value proposition to their enrolled students, BHSU also made the short certificate programs available to its MBA students.


  • As a result, BHSU successfully established a 5-week program with an experienced roster of trainers, corporate leaders, and supporters.
  • Additionally, this model expanded to also include project management and economic development training.
  • The success of the pilot sales certificate program gained the support of some previously unengaged companies either financially or through sending employees to participate in the program. A testament to employer engagement now is the participant ratios.
  • Of program graduates, 90% were employees working in the region or MBA students seeking to increase their skills for no credit.
  • This ratio of students previously unaffiliated with the University is a win-win. “We’re trying not to rely on our student base for this to be successful, but rather looking at the broader market to see where there’s a need and get new people into our student base,” said Hans Nelson, Director, Center for Hospitality and Business, Black Hills State University.

If you would like to learn more about Ady Advantage talent assessments or developing talent strategies to match the workforce challenges you face, we’d love to connect.

Our team at Ady Advantage can help your region with talent assessments, recruitment strategies, talent campaign audits, and more unique techniques to meet the distinct demands of the times.

We looking forward to continue learning and connecting with Black Hills State University and economic developers from throughout the region at a series of Economic Development Workshops at BHSU September 15-17. Ady Advantage President and CEO Janet Ady will join Joe Fiala, Bob Mundt to discuss preparing for site selectors.

This series is targeting at EDO directors/organizations in SD, ND, WY, MT, and CO; EDO board members, elected officials/staff, ED partners, community leaders, GOED staff, and BHSU MBA students. Learn more.